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Fast jet pilots take on F-35A conversion course

written by Robert Dougherty | June 5, 2023

Two F-35A Lightning II aircraft, A35-032 (top) and A35-004, from No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit, fly over the Northern Territory during Exercise Rogue Ambush 21-1. Photo: LAC Adam Abela.

The Royal Australian Air Force’s newest crop of fast jet pilots will undertake the final phase of the F-35A Lightning II operational conversion course.

Personnel and aircraft are scheduled to be deployed to RAAF Base Townsville for Exercise High Sierra 23-1 from 12 June to 6 July.

Pilots and crew will need to successfully operate away from a main operating base, plan and execute a large force employment scenario, and deliver explosive ordnance into the weapons range. Successful fast jet pilots will graduate to the 81 Wing.

Commanding Officer No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit, Wing Commander Philip Eldridge, said it would be the first time the exercise had been conducted, with F-35A Lightning II aircraft operating out of RAAF Base Townsville.

“Previous iterations of operational conversion training have been conducted as Exercise Rogue Ambush in Darwin, or with F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets at RAAF Base Townsville,” WGCDR Eldridge said.


“Exercise High Sierra aims to graduate combat ready F-35A fast jet pilots and E-7A aircrew capable of operating in complex environments.”

RAAF co-pilots, surveillance and control officers, and electronic support measures operators will also undertake operational conversion course for the E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft.

Aircraft will operate from RAAF Base Townsville, as well as into the Shoalwater Bay Training Area north of Rockhampton.

“As this is the final phase of operational conversion course, challenging the pilots and crews will provide them with the experience and skillset required in combat operations,” WGCDR Eldridge said.

“Air Force appreciates the continued support of the North Queensland community during Exercise High Sierra, in particular the residents near RAAF Base Townsville.”

Multiple other Air Force aircraft platforms are supporting the exercise, including the Hawk 127 Lead-In Fighter and KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport. Aircraft will operate on weekdays during daylight flying hours for the duration of Exercise High Sierra 23-1.

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