The team charged with bringing home Australia’s F-35A Lightning II in December 2018 has reached a few important milestones.
In May, 27 of the first cadre of Australia’s F-35A maintenance crew completed their technical training.
Senior Engineering Officer for the F-35A Transition Team Squadron Leader (SQNLDR) Leigh Tinker said he now had 20 personnel stationed at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona, after the initial maintenance training was completed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
“It’s great to see blue Aussie cams out there on the flightline, getting hands-on experience with the F-35A, working side-by-side with the USAF’s 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit and Lockheed Martin,” SQNLDR Tinker said.
“A number of maintenance personnel have also returned to Australia to begin preparations for the arrival of the F-35As at RAAF Base Williamtown.”
Most of these personnel will form the core of No. 3 Squadron when it stands up as the RAAF’s first F-35A squadron, with others posted to No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit.
The other Australian F-35A pilot currently under training, Wing Commander (WGCDR) Darren Clare, is still part-way through his operational conversion but recently completed his first flight in the F-35A after comprehensive simulation training.
“The sims set you up very well for the flights,” WGCDR Clare said.
“The jet feels very similar to a Hornet in most flight regimes, and it was exciting to take off in an airplane for the first time solo.
“The operations and maintenance teams made sure I flew an Australian aircraft (A35-002) for the flight, and I was also launched by an Aussie Crew Chief, which made it all the more special.
“I can see the momentum building, and our people will be ready when Air Force receives its next eight F-35As in 2018, as the transition hits full swing.”
WGCDR Clare will become the Commanding Officer of 3SQN when the unit transitions from F/A18A Classic Hornet operations to the F-35A.
The RAAF personnel are fully embedded with the 61st Fighter Squadron “Top Dogs” and Maintenance Unit at Luke Air Force Base.
CO 61st Fighter Squadron Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) Rhett Hierlmeier said he had noted how seamless the integration between the Australians and their US hosts had been.
“The Aussies are more than pulling their weight here in the Top Dogs,” LTCOL Hierlmeier said.
“They are highly professional operators and we feel privileged to be a part of Royal Australian Air Force history supporting their transition to the F-35A.”