RAAF Pilot Paves Future with First F-35 Flight

Eglin Air Force Base - 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs // March 25, 2015

A Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Squadron Leader Andrew Jackson, made history here, March 18, after completing his first training flight in the F-35A.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

“It’s quite humbling when stepping into a new jet,” said Jackson. “I just tried to take my time, remember the things I’ve been taught and go through them in order before taking off.”

Flying beside Jackson was his wingman and instructor pilot, Lt. Col. Matthew Renbarger, 58th Fighter Squadron commander, who guided him through the flight.

“He did great,” said Renbarger. “It’s a testament to how good our training system is; that we can take pilots from different backgrounds, non-U.S. systems, and have no issues at all on his first flight.”

Jackson arrived in the United States in December 2014 and started his training at the F-35 Academic Training Center on Jan. 26, Australia Day. Since then, Jackson has completed 154 classroom hours and 64 hours throughout 16 flight simulations, before taking his first steps on to the flight line.

“Everything I’ve done in the simulator made the F-35 remarkably easy to fly,” said Jackson. “It felt very similar to the F-18 Hornet that I have flown previously, so it was a very comfortable transition.”

The F-35A will replace the F/A-18A/B Hornets currently at RAAF Bases, Williamtown (NSW) and Tindal (NT). Now, half way through the program, Jackson will move on to the tactical portion of his training.

“Once he completes his training, he will be the last international F-35 pilot to attend the ATC here,” said Renbarger. “From here, he’ll go to Luke [Air Force Base, Arizona] to be an instructor pilot there.”

In May 2015, the second RAAF pilot is scheduled to start his training at the international pilot training center at Luke AFB where two Australian F-35As are currently located.

The fifth-generation aircraft will meet Australia’s future air combat and strike needs, providing a networked force-multiplier effect in terms of situational awareness and combat effectiveness.

The RAAF plans to obtain 100 F-35s with the first aircraft scheduled to arrive in Australia by the end of 2018 and the first operational squadron established by 2020.