The first Australian F-35A Lightning II pilot has completed his first flight in the aircraft.
Squadron Leader Andrew Jackson’s flight, on the morning of March 17 (US time), was conducted in a US Air Force F-35A from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where he is undergoing conversion training onto the aircraft.
“It was pretty awesome,” SQNLDR Jackson said of his first F-35 flight in an interview on the Department of Defence website.
“We went out to the northern airspace and did some stuff up there, and then down to Tyndall Air Force Base to do some circuit training and then back here [Eglin].”
SQNLDR Jackson said the aircraft feels “very similar” to the simulator.
“It’s remarkably easy to fly, it felt very similar to the F-18 that I’ve flown previously so it was very comfortable in that regard, and in all seriousness it almost felt easier to fly than the sim did, so that really wasn’t a concern, it was more about getting it started and not falling off the ladder were the main things I was focused on today!”
Prior to his first flight SQNLDR Jackson and his coursemates have spent seven weeks in ground school learning about the aeroplane.
“We’ve still got three weeks or so of flying training to go on base so hopefully [I’ll] get through that successfully and then we’ll move up to Phoenix,” SQNLDR Jackson explained. “The plan from there is to start instructing on the F-35 there [at Luke Air Force Base]. So myself and my wife will move up in early May, the second Australian [SQNLDR David Bell] will be arriving in Phoenix directly in mid-May and hopefully I’ll get to be involved in some of his training, and then we’ll be looking to bed down our procedures for bringing the aeroplane home.”
The first two Australian F-35As, meanwhile, are already at Luke, “in anticipation of the opening of the international pilot training centre in mid-2015,” Defence stated.
The first RAAF F-35A is due to arrive in Australia at the end of 2018, with the first operational squadron expected to be established by 2020.