The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) continues to maintain a presence at Luke Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona, that has enabled them to continue joint training on the F-35A Lightning II, with the US Air Force (USAF).
As of October, five RAAF instructor pilots, seven student pilots and two maintainers continue to train with the 61st Fighter Squadron at Luke. The nine-month undergraduate training course trains RAAF and USAF pilots on how to operate and employ the F-35. Pilot training at Luke AFB, for the RAAF, will continue to December. Maintenance training however, was concluded early due to the ongoing pandemic.
In 2019, 17 out of the 34 fighter pilots assigned to the USAF’s 61st Fighter Squadron, were RAAF pilots along with five F-35s. "For Australia, we train pilots and maintainers here at Luke AFB. We will continue beyond the end of 2020 to use Luke as a staging ground for jet deliveries to be brought back to Australia," saod RAAF Maj. Christopher Baker, 61st Fighter Squadron instructor pilot and a graduate of the F-35A pilot training programme at Luke AFB.
The majority of the RAAF’s F-35A pilots, maintainers and aircraft returned to RAAF Base Williamtown, Australia, in December 2019.
“To be able to keep those formal connections, we're heavily looking into exchange programs where we're actively trying to get one of our pilots to get an exchange assignment at RAAF Base Williamtown,” said USAF Lt. Col. Tom Hayes, 61st FS Commander. “They would serve over there for two or three years, just like we have exchange assignments with other partners. The Air Force Personnel Center is actively seeking applications to send.”
Declaration of Initial Operational Capability for the RAAF’s F-35As is planned by December 2020.
The first RAAF B-course for student pilot training, to be taught by instructor pilots trained at Luke AFB, is slated to commence in January 2021.
RAAF Base Williamtown presently hosts one operational and one training F-35A squadron. Plans call for another operational squadron to be established in January 2021. It received its first F-35 in 2018 and the 30th F-35 is slated for return to Australia by December 2020. The RAAF has a total of 72 F-35s on order, with deliveries to conclude by 2024.
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