The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) first F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter completed its inaugural flight at a facility in the US.

Designated AU-1, the aircraft reportedly took off from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas, the US, for a two hour flight, which included a series of functional checks.

Australian Defence Minister David Johnston said the first flight event represents a significant step towards acceptance of the aircraft.

"Australia’s first aircraft AU-1 and AU-2 will undergo further flight testing in the lead up to acceptance and ferry to Luke Air Force Base in 2015.

"The fifth generation JSF is the most advanced fighter in production anywhere in the world and will replace our fleet of Classic Hornets, which by 2020 will be more than 35 years old."

Australia is acquiring a total of 72 F-35A conventional take-off and landing aircraft from Lockheed Martin for an estimated cost of more than $12bn.

The first two aircraft were rolled out by Lockheed in Fort Worth, Texas, on 24 July.

"The first flight event represents a significant step towards acceptance of the aircraft."

At Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US, the aircraft will be used in Australian and partner country pilot training programmes.

The first F-35 aircraft is scheduled to enter service in Australia in 2018, while the first operational squadron would be established by 2020.

Under development in three variants, the F-35 is a fifth generation multirole fighter jet designed to carry out a wide range of ground attack, reconnaissance and air defence missions with stealth capability.

Australia joined the F-35 programme during the development phase, bringing more than $355m worth of contracts to the domestic defence industry.

In addition to this, the Australian industry is on course to win in excess of $1.5bn in JSF-related production and support work over the life of the programme.

Image: Australia’s first F-35A joint strike fighter taking flight from Fort Worth, Texas, US. Photo: courtesy of Liz Kaszynski / Lockheed Martin.

Defence Technology