Building the future fighter jet workforce


07 Nov


The introduction of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) into service in Australia is a key step in Air Force’s fifth-generation transformation.

By the end of 2023, Australia’s 72 JSF aircraft are anticipated to be operating from RAAF Bases Williamtown and Tindal, so ensuring a skilled workforce is in place to support F-35A operations is a priority for Air Force.

F-35A Air Vehicle Sustainment Manager SQNLDR Nathan Draper, of the Air Combat Systems Program Office, is playing an important role promoting Air Force careers in the Hunter region of NSW, where the majority of Air Force’s JSF aircraft will be based at Williamtown.

“I visit local schools as part of my involvement with Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter team,” SQNLDR Draper said.

With a skills shortage across the country, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, SQNLDR Draper knows it is important to engage with people early and get them thinking about Air Force as an exciting career option.

“I paint a picture of my experiences in Defence, working on amazing capabilities and future technologies like the F-111, JSF and Super Hornet, so young people can connect and aspire to follow a similar STEM career,” he said.

SQNLDR Draper, who started his Air Force career more 32 years ago as an apprentice air frame fitter and went on to gain masters qualifications in engineering, began conducting youth group visits while posted to Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona.

“In Arizona I was asked to give presentations at youth groups known as Civil Air Patrol,” he said.

“This is a similar organisation to our Australian Air Force Cadets. I talked about the RAAF and our partnership with US, as well as the F-35 program and what was happening at Luke AFB with the international partnership. I also talked to school groups visiting Luke AFB to see the new F-35 aircraft.

“When I returned to Australia, it seemed like a natural progression to get involved with our schools and offer the same type of insights to energise our youth. I was lucky that RDA Hunter had already been working on excellent STEM programs in the region and from there we have created a community partnership.”

During school visits SQNLDR Draper is usually joined by representatives from BAE Systems, Boeing, Jacobs Australia and others in a group of speakers who provide different perspectives of similar roles.

“I make it very clear that, although I wear a uniform, a critical piece of the puzzle that enables what we do in Defence is the contribution of industry,” he said.

SQNLDR Draper said his engagement with students was always positive.

“I was recently one of the speakers for a new aerospace systems engineering program the University of Newcastle will offer next year and the feedback was great,” he said.

“School groups and younger students understand new capabilities like the F-35, because they have grown up in a touch screen world and are the ‘Xbox generation’.

“ICT and computers are second nature to them, so they are a perfect fit for the next generation Air Force. I always end up with a small group of students afterwards asking questions about joining the RAAF.”

He said Air Force offered diverse STEM careers across a range of new platforms.

“The JSF is the reality of the fifth-generation vision, which will drive change across Defence,” he said.

“A fifth-generation force needs a fifth-generation fighter. In December that journey becomes reality for Air Force with the arrival of the first F-35A aircraft at Williamtown.”

Click here for more information about the Australian F-35A Project

Click here for more information about Air Force careers

Click here for more information about RDA Hunter