The first RAAF pilots selected to fly the F-35A Lightning II, squadron leaders Andrew Jackson (left) and David Bell,in front of an F-35A Lightning II mock-up
The first two Australian pilots selected to undergo F-35A training in the United States were announced this year by the Deputy Chief of Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Gavin (Leo) Davies.
The pilots will be trained to fly the F-35A Lightning II, commonly known as the Joint Strike Fighter.
Speaking in February at the home of Australian military aviation in Point Cook, Victoria, Air Vice Marshal Davies said the training represented an important milestone towards introducing the F-35A into Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) service.
‘It is fitting to announce the future of this capability here at Point Cook, where military aviation in Australia was born’, he said.
‘Our history is important, and these two pilots will make history as they become our first pilots to fly this fifth generation aircraft.
‘Not only do they represent the future of the RAAF, they will have an important leadership and training role as future instructors for the F-35A’, Air Vice Marshal Davies said.
Squadron leaders Andrew Jackson and David Bell, currently based at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales, were selected for their operational flying skills, extensive experience and leadership. They will soon travel to the United States to commence their training.
‘The F-35A will provide us with an incredible air combat capability. I’m excited to be given the opportunity to take a leading role in its introduction’, said Squadron Leader Jackson, who is a qualified fighter combat instructor.
Squadron Leader Bell, a qualified test pilot, was equally impressed by the opportunity.
‘This aircraft gives fighter pilots a level of situational awareness that far exceeds legacy platforms. It will be an honour to work alongside the US Air Force and to be at the leading edge of delivering the F-35A to Australia’, he said.
Australia has committed to 72 F-35A aircraft comprising three operational squadrons: two at RAAF Base Williamtown and one at RAAF Base Tindal. In addition, a training squadron will be based at RAAF Base Williamtown.
The RAAF’s first F-35A was handed over in the United States in July 2014 and the first F-35A aircraft will arrive in Australia in 2018. The first squadron, Number 3 Squadron, will be operational in 2021 and all 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.
In the future, a fourth operational squadron will be considered for RAAF Base Amberley, making a total of about 100 F-35A aircraft.