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F-35: The Future of Australian Aviation

February 22, 2017

Every month, the F-35’s global footprint continues to expand. Next week, this trend continues as the F-35 makes its debut in Australia at the Avalon Airshow March 3 – 5, marking a milestone achievement for the program. The Avalon Airshow, also known as the Australian International Airshow, is one of the largest airshows in the southern hemisphere.

The F-35’s arrival in Australia marks another step in the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) transformation into a 5th Generation air force. The Hon Christopher Pyne, Australia’s minister for defence industry, says the F-35’s debut “is an incredible opportunity for the Australian public to see the future of aviation.”

A Little Bit of History

For the F-35 partner countries and foreign military sales customers, there are slight distinctions that help tell the aircraft apart. The different variants have various aesthetic nuances. The unique tail flashes often clue onlookers in. But one thing many look for is the symbol on the roundel. Befitting of Australia, its F-35s take to the skies with a bouncing kangaroo, known as “Skippy,” coming along for the ride.

Australia’s chapter in the F-35 program began in 2009, when its government announced the selection of the F-35A to replace its classic Hornet fighter fleet. From 2018, the F-35A will progressively assume the front line role within the Australian air combat fleet.

Continuous Growth Spurs Australian F-35 Program

In July 2014, just five years after Australia selected the aircraft, a ceremony was held at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant, celebrating the official rollout of the first two F-35s for the RAAF.

In December of that year, the first two Australian F-35As, AU-1 and AU-2, were delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where they are being used for pilot training.

“Today, we take another tremendous step forward in our transition to the F-35 here at Luke,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th Fighter Wing commander, when the AU-1 landed at Luke AFB. “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.”

Just a few months later in May 2015, RAAF Squadron Leader Andrew Jackson, the first F-35 Senior National Representative to Luke AFB, made history by flying the first RAAF F-35A sortie at the base.

“My focus is on representing the RAAF as a valuable partner in the F-35 enterprise,” said Jackson, after flying his first sortie. “It’s very exciting to finally be at Luke with the 61st Fighter Squadron and to get to fly a RAAF F-35A. Whilst I’m told that all the F-35s are the same, it’s awesome to finally go flying in a jet that has ‘Skippy’ painted on the side.”

Excitement Grows at Home for the F-35’s Debut

The F-35’s debut in Australia is a testament to the rapid growth the program has experienced. As the Avalon Airshow quickly approaches, there is a sense of excitement and pride from the teams that support the F-35.

“As Australia’s AU-1 and AU-2 prepare to make their in-country debuts at the Avalon Airshow, I’m humbled to be able to witness such a historic moment for Australia, and for the F-35 program,” said Sheila Davidson, Lockheed Martin F-35 Australia Country Manager.

“To date, more than 50 Australian companies have joined forces with Lockheed Martin and Air Vice-Marshal Leigh Gordon’s Joint Strike Fighter Division, in contributing to the development and production of the F-35. At the Avalon Airshow, our industry partners will get a first-hand look at the aircraft that will defend Australia for years to come.”