The Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) F-35A aircraft installed with domestically manufactured vertical tails has completed its first flight.
The Lockheed Martin-built F-35A Lightning II, known as AF-73, was installed with two vertical tails earlier this year at the company’s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, US.
Victorian-based engineering company Marand is responsible for delivering a total of 722 vertical tails sets for F-35 joint strike fighter (JSF) Lightning II under a subcontract with BAE Systems for installation onboard the F-35 fighters.
Marand CEO Rohan Stocker said: "It has been an incredible journey from the point where we initially bid for this work with BAE Systems to witnessing the reality of our vertical tails being an integral part of the F-35.
"This is a great moment, and we look forward to continuing to build our future as a global supplier to the F-35 programme, as well as to other advanced manufacturing opportunities in Australia."
With the new F-35 Lightning II aircraft, the RAAF will benefit from a transformational fifth-generation fighter capability. It also offers significant benefits to the Australian aerospace industry.
As part of the JSF programme, the Australian industry has secured production and development work worth $482m to date.
JSF Division programme manager air vice-marshal Chris Deeble said: "Close collaboration between Australian industry and Defence will be essential to the delivery of a first class sustainable and affordable JSF capability for the Australian Defence Force."
Australia will receive the first F-35A aircraft later in 2018. The F-35A fleet will replace the old F/A-18A/B Hornet aircraft.
Recently, the Australian Department of Environment approved the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the flying operations of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in the country.
Image: Lockheed Martin’s Alan Norman pilots the first flight of AF-73 in a sortie lasting 84 minutes. Photo: courtesy of Matthew Short, Lockheed Martin.