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F-35, Wedgetail pilots complete training

Pilot Officer Dirk was one of the pilots who completed the first operational conversion course conducted in Australia for the F-35A Lightning II during Exercise Rogue Ambush. Photo: Leading Aircraftman Adam Abela

Exercise Rogue Ambush 21 has marked the completion of combat aircraft pilot training for the RAAF's latest graduates. 

Exercise Rogue Ambush 21 has marked the completion of combat aircraft pilot training for the RAAF's latest graduates. 

The Royal Australian Air Force has welcomed its latest F-35A Lighting II and E-7A Wedgetail pilots, which have completed six-month operational conversion courses that wrapped up on Exercise Rogue Ambush 21, held from 15 June to 2 July. 

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The exercise, which took place in the Northern Territory, provided pilots with interoperability training, supporting the integration of the two platforms.

Four F-35A pilots were among the graduates, completing the first F-35A operational conversion course to take place in Australia.

Commanding Officer of No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit Wing Commander Jordon Sander congratulated the graduates, lauding their capabilities. 

“I'm constantly impressed by the quality of our pilots,” WGCDR Sander said.

“From their basic flying training, to then being selected for fighter jets, the F-35A operational conversion course was the very last hurdle. The pilots had to apply and conduct simulated offensive and defensive manoeuvres, targeting both enemy airborne aircraft and missile systems on the ground.

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“I look at how complex our systems are now and I'm just amazed at what they do and how quickly they learn.”

 F-35A Pilot Officer Dirk reflected on his achievement. 

"From starting my basic flying training on a CT-4 back in 2017 to finally becoming an F-35A pilot, it all feels pretty surreal," PLTOFF Dirk said. 

“I came into this knowing it was going to be a lot of hard work; early mornings and late nights and there's going to be failures along the way.

“It’s been challenging and sometimes you sort of need to search for that extra motivation, but once you get to the end, it is a pretty awesome feeling.”

No. 2 Squadron co-pilot Pilot Officer Jack Shellcot, among the E-7A Wedgetail graduates, began his career as a commercial pilot before joining the RAAF in 2017.

“One of the biggest inspirations for me was the idea of transferring the highly technical skill that I’d devoted a large portion of my life to and applying it to enable the safe and efficient operation of the E-7A,” he said.

“This has been unlike anything I have ever done before, so it’s been extremely rewarding to reach the culmination of over four years of application and training to qualify as an E-7A co-pilot.

“It is easily the most incredible and capable aircraft I have had the pleasure of flying, and the learning never stops.”

PLTOFF Shellcot said Exercise Rogue Ambush put the graduates to the test, presenting the pilots with significant challenges. 

“We’re all striving to complete our own individual jobs in pursuit of achieving a mutual goal,” he said.

“However, the second week of the exercise coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown in Darwin, so we had to reassess the way we were operating.

“The nature of our roles means we’re used to working in fast-paced and rapidly changing environments, so this really was the ultimate test.”

Approximately 300 personnel and 30 aircraft from the RAAF deployed to RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal for Exercise Rogue Ambush.

The aircraft conducted a wide range of tactical flying activities, leveraging the Tindal restricted airspace and Delamere Air Weapons Range.

Aircraft involved in the exercise included the F-35A Lightning II, F/A-18A/B Hornet, E-7A Wedgetail, Hawk 127 lead-in fighter and KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport.

[Related: RAAF gears up for ‘high complexity’ combat training]

F-35, Wedgetail pilots complete training
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