The Royal Australian Air Force has taken delivery of its tenth Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter, with the aircraft arriving at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona last week.
The milestone aircraft, serial A35-010, is the second to be delivered direct to the RAAF’s 3SQN, which is operating alongside US Air Force F-35A training units at Luke. The RAAF’s other eight aircraft have to date operated under the USAF’s and Lockheed Martin’s training and maintenance systems, whereas aircraft nine and 10 were delivered under the RAAF’s own airworthiness authority and Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) maintenance system.
“Our tenth JSF was delivered to RAAF’s 3SQN at Luke AFB last week following a range of acceptance testing activities authorising delivery,” Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said on Monday.
“Until now, all aircraft deliveries went to the F-35 International Pilot Training Centre, which required RAAF maintainers to perform ALIS-related tasks using the American system. Operating on Australian ALIS is an important achievement before the JSFs arrive in Australia in December this year.”
Two RAAF F-35As are due to ferry to Australia in early to mid-December, after which they will conduct an Australian-specific verification and validation (V&V) period in preparation for 3SQN returning to Australia in 2019.
A further eight F-35As are due to be delivered to the RAAF in 2019, while another 15 “should be under contract by early 2019 for delivery in 2020”, according to Defence.
To date, eight RAAF pilots are qualified on the F-35A and are instructing at Luke, while 27 maintainers have completed training on the type.
Initial operational capability (IOC) is planned for December 2020.
RAAF F-35 engineer recognised by US
In other RAAF F-35 news, the service’s first F-35A engineering officer, SQNLDR Nathan Draper, has been recognised by the US with the awarding of a Meritorious Service Medal for his significant contribution to the establishment and sustainment of the Australian training, maintenance and engineering effort at Luke AFB.
Now a member of Air Combat Systems Program Office (ACSPO) sustainment team at RAAF Williamtown, SQNLDR Draper served as the Australian Maintenance Liaison Lead at Luke AFB from 2014 until 2017.
While at Luke he played a significant role in establishing the initial RAAF and other partner nations F-35 complements including those from Norway and Italy.
“A decision had been made to embed international F-35 program partners as part of operations at Luke AFB,” SQNLDR Draper said in a Defence statement.
“I knew that as the first partner nation representative I had one chance to make a difference and set the tone and culture for the international team’s contribution.
“I was a little overwhelmed that the efforts I put in were recognised at a program level and that what I did was making a difference on a big playing field,” he added.
“A key component of my time at Luke AFB was continually asking questions of our contracted logistics support staff who maintained our jets.”
The RAAF is acquiring 72 F-35As under Project AIR 6000 Phases 2A and 2B, and has a requirement for a further 30 aircraft under Phase 2C, a decision on which is due to be made by 2022.
All 72 jets are expected to be fully operational by 2023.
VIDEO – In June, the RAAF marked its 1,000th F-35A sortie from Luke AFB, as this Defence YouTube video shows. To date the RAAF F-35A fleet has now flown over 1,800 hours.