The planned departure of the RAAF’s first two F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from the Avalon Airshow to Amberley on Sunday had to be delayed a day due to concerns over forecast thunderstorms in the Amberley area on Sunday evening.
“Due to weather in Amberley the F-35A will now depart the Avalon Airshow on Monday, 6 March rather than Sunday, 5 March as previously scheduled,” a statement by the RAAF issued on Sunday afternoon reads.
“It is well documented that the F-35A aircraft requires modifications for lightning protection and these modifications have not yet been completed on the two visiting Australian aircraft. As safety is Air Force’s priority, the aircraft will not fly in conditions where lightning is present. Prior to return to Australia, the Australian F-35A will be modified with lightning protection.”
Australia’s first two F-35s (A35-001 and -002) were handed over to the RAAF in late 2014 and since then have been based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona where they are part of an international F-35 training centre. As such the aircraft, while owned by Australia, are currently attached to the US Air Force’s 56th Fighter Wing.
Consequently the F-35’s deployment to Australia and their display at the Avalon Airshow had to be cleared by the USAF.
Reads Air Force’s statement: “Authorisation has been given for the aircraft to ferry to RAAF Base Amberley, from RAAF Base Amberley to Avalon, and then return from Avalon to RAAF Base Amberley before returning to the United States. Following a late notice request by the Royal Australian Air Force, the USAF supported and approved an Avalon to Avalon event yesterday [Saturday]. Approval to fly at Avalon on Sunday was not requested by the Royal Australian Air Force and, therefore, with the weather events in Amberley, we are unfortunately unable to seek that authorisation.”
The two jets were due to depart Avalon at approximately 1500 on Sunday, accompanied by an F/A-18F Super Hornet.
But, as an airshow media alert issued on Saturday ahead of that planned event read: “All flypasts and flying activities are subject to change due to operational requirements.”
The F-35s had arrived at Avalon on Friday where they were officially welcomed to Australia by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne and Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne. They had arrived in Australia on Monday February 27 after ferrying across the Pacific via Hawaii and Guam, and are due to return to Luke AFB via Guam and Hawaii departing on March 8. On both of their trans-Pacific crossings they are being supported by a RAAF KC-30A tanker-transport.
The first F-35s to be based permanently in Australia are two aircraft due to arrive in late 2018 for Australian operational test and evaluation. Other Australia F-35s will be delivered to Luke for pilot training from 2018 before ferrying to Australia from 2020.