Two more F-35s take RAAF fleet to 50


2 The RAAFs newest F 35A Lightning II aircraft arrive at RAAF Base Williamtown. Corporal Craig Barrett
The RAAF’s newest F-35A Lightning II aircraft arrive at RAAF Base Williamtown. (Corporal Craig Barrett)

The RAAF has taken delivery of two more F-35A Lighting II aircraft, taking its current fleet to 50.

No. 3 Squadron was responsible for the safe arrival of the aircraft into Australia in May following its ferry across the Pacific Ocean from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The F-35 is the country’s newest fighter, bought to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Classic Hornets that were in service since 1985 and retired in late 2021.

Over the coming years, Australia will purchase 72 as part of the $17 billion AIR 6000 Phase 2A/B program, with all expected to be fully operational by 2023.

Commanding Officer of No. 3 Squadron, Wing Commander Adrian Kiely, said the RAAF F-35A aircraft participated in Exercise Black Flag 22-1 and integration activities with the US Air Force’s (USAF) 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron before the ferry to Australia.

“As our F-35A fleet continues to increase, we’re opening the door to new opportunities such as the first-ever forward area refuelling of an Australian F-35A with a United States HC-130J,” WGCDR Kiely said.

“We’ve brought back not only more aircraft to Australia, but also a more highly skilled workforce to further benefit the wider Air Force.”

Thus far, the fighters have clocked in excess of 15,000 flight hours and have already achieved initial operational capability, making it combat-ready.

The aircraft comes in three variants: the F-35A – purchased by Australia – is a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version; the F-35B is a short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, and the final F-35C is the carrier type (CV).

In June 2021, Australian Aviation reported how two F-35s took to the skies with a full complement of weapons for the first time.

The landmark moment came as the pair were taking part in Exercise Arnhem Thunder 21 from RAAF Base Darwin.

In addition to their internal payload, the F-35s departed with laser-guided GBU-12 bombs attached to their under-wing pylons.

The bombs were dropped on ground-based targets at the Delamere Air Weapons Range, located about 120 kilometres south of Katherine.

The aircraft also headlined the Central Coast Airshow in May at Warnervale Airport in NSW.

Australian Aviation was there to chat to the key players for the event that also featured a display by the RAAF Roulettes alongside warbirds such as the Mustang, Spitfire, Kittyhawk, Warraway, Boomerang and Trojan.

You can watch footage of the fifth-generation fighter flying below, and subscribers can also listen to our interview with aerobatics pilot Paul Bennet.

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