The first RAAF Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II arrived at Luke AFB near Phoenix in Arizona on December 18 to join the USAF-led training pool there.
F-35A A35-002 (AU-2) was flown by a USAF pilot, and was welcomed to Luke by the Australian air attache to Washington AIRCDRE Gary Martin, the first Australian F-35 pilot SQNLDR Andrew Jackson, and RAAF lead F-35 engineer SQNLDR Nathan Draper.
SQNLDR Draper has been at Luke for several months and is establishing the RAAF’s training and engineering presence alongside the USAF’s 61st Fighter Squadron. SQNLDR Jackson moved the US in November to convert to the F-35A at Eglin AFB in Florida, and will soon move across to Luke once his conversion is complete where he will be joined by the RAAF’s second pilot, SQNLDR David Bell in May.
The RAAF aircraft is the first partner nation F-35 to join the multi-national training fleet at Luke.
“The Royal Australian Air Force is delighted to be the first foreign partner nation with F-35A aircraft arriving at Luke Air Force Base,” AIRCDRE Martin said in a statement.
“This is an important milestone for Australia and we are looking forward to the commencement of our fifth-generation pilot training here at Luke in 2015.”
Brig Gen Scott Pleus, the commander of the USAF’s 56th Fighter Wing added: “Welcoming our first Australian F-35 is a special day for Luke and the community that has been so supportive of us. Australia is the first of 10 nations that will not only become part of the Luke community, but will share in calling the West Valley a home away from home.”
Other nations scheduled to conduct F-35A training at Luke include Turkey, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea and Israel.
“Luke’s mission has been to train the world’s greatest fighter pilots,” Brig Gen Pleus said. “We will continue on that legacy as we train the world’s best F-35A pilots.”
“The collaborative training we’ll be doing here on aircraft designed with stealth, manoeuvrability and integrated avionics will better prepare our combined forces to assume multi-role missions for the future of strike aviation,” Brig Gen Pleus added.
“From the bed-down of the F-35 and its infrastructure to the execution of training, our partner-nations have been an important piece of Luke’s F-35 team. The relationships we’re building now will be invaluable when we deploy together around the world protecting our respective countries.”
The RAAF’s first F-35A unit will be 3SQN which is due to convert to the aircraft in 2018 and achieve an initial operational capability (IOC) back at RAAF Williamtown in 2019.