A real treat for aviation fans (or “aerosexuals” as my best mate says!) at the Avalon Australian International Airshow 2017 was the addition of a short but historically significant flying display by the new RAAF Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter A35-001. This aircraft piloted by Squadron Leader Andrew “Jacko” Jackson is the first Fifth Generation fighter to be operated by the RAAF.
On the ground the second F-35A A35-002 was on static display to allow the public to get a closer look at this advanced yet controversial aircraft. Although this was not the first time I have seen an F-35, it was great to finally see one with a RAAF kangaroo on it (I have previously seen USAF F-35A’s fly and on static display in 2014 and 2016, the USMC F-35B STOVL variant fly and on static display in 2015 and a Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35A on static display in 2016)!
The first two RAAF F-35A fighters were flown to Australia on a ferry flight with tanker support specifically to show them off at Avalon. A few days after Avalon they soon returned to the US to continue the pilot training and testing program of this advanced stealth combat aircraft. I look forward to their eventual return and many more entering RAAF operational service.
Australia has committed to 72 F-35A’s for three operational squadrons and one training squadron with the option for 28 more for a fourth operational squadron. The first training aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2018, Number 3 Squadron is planned to be fully operational by 2021 and all are expected to operational by 2023.