Australia’s 13th and 14th F-35A aircraft have been accepted from Lockheed Martin and ferried to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, US, where they will form part of the international fleet of aircraft at the Pilot Training Centre (PTC) and be used to train F-35A pilots from Partner Nations across the globe.
Before leaving Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out facility at Fort Worth, Texas, A35-013 and A35-014 were assigned as chase aircraft, providing quality assurance and safety as part of the global F-35 Program.
Air Vehicle Engineer Namita Jose, of the Joint Strike Fighter Division, said chase operations involved a cooperative aircraft flying at specified flight conditions and profiles, while using its radar and other equipment to test another aircraft’s performance.
“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,” Ms Jose said.
“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.”
F-16 aircraft have traditionally fulfilled the chase role; however, with the ramp up in production as part of the F-35 Program, more F-35 aircraft are now conducting chase activities.
Squadron Leader (SQNLDR) Keith McGrath works in the F-35 Production Execution team at the US F-35 Joint Program Office and said the availability of aircraft to conduct chase operations was vital for timely production acceptance and delivery of F-35 aircraft worldwide.
“To meet increased demand, the F-35 Program has requested new Partner Nation aircraft to be used as chase aircraft before delivery to each partner,” SQNLDR McGrath said.
“Partner obligation for each year is based on the number of partner aircraft being produced within that production lot.”
A35-013 and A35-014 will remain at the international PTC with eight other Australian F-35A aircraft (A35-001 – A35-008) until the end of 2020, when they will be ferried across the Pacific to join the fleet of F-35A aircraft in Australia.