Lockheed Martin has delivered Australia’s two additional F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US.
Designated A35-013 and A35-014, the aircraft are not expected to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fleet until the end of next year.
The fighter jets will be part of the international fleet of aircraft at the Pilot Training Centre (PTC) and will support the programme to train F-35A pilots belonging to partner nations in the global F-35 JSF project.
As chase aircraft, A35-013 and A35-014 will fly alongside test aircraft to monitor their performance.
Joint Strike Fighter division air vehicle engineer Namita Jose noted that chase operations involve a cooperative aircraft flying at specified flight conditions and profiles.
The aircraft is designed for chase operations and uses its radar and other equipment to monitor the performance of aircraft.
Jose said: “A chase aircraft is required to monitor an aircraft just off the production line to ensure it is operating as expected, by observing its flying characteristics like airspeed, altitudes and limits, as well as checking whether the weapons bay is operating as expected.
“The chase aircraft must ensure it maintains safe deconfliction with the test aircraft and conduct different manoeuvres as required. The chase aircraft will continue to fly with the test aircraft until the test aircraft is signed off as serviceable for use.”
Lockheed Martin has traditionally engaged F-16 aircraft to perform the chase role. However, the company is now using more F-35 aircraft for chase operations given the rise in F-35 production.
US F-35 Joint Program Office F-35 production execution team member squadron leader Keith McGrath stated that the availability of chase aircraft enables timely production acceptance and delivery of F-35 aircraft worldwide.
A35-013 and A35-014, along with eight more F-35A fifth-generation aircraft meant for use by the RAAF, will be stationed at the PTC until the end of next year, when they will be delivered to Australia.
Australia’s first two F-35As arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown in December.
The next two jets, which will be assigned to Number 3 Squadron, touched down in Australia last month.