The Royal Australian Air Force’s first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II made its debut flight from the manufacturer’s Fort Worth facility in Texas on 29 September.
The 2h flight of the aircraft – designated AU-1 by Lockheed and A35-001 by the RAAF – was conducted by company test pilot Al Norman. Australia's lead aircraft will remain at Fort Worth alongside its AU-2 stablemate for further testing, before being delivered to the US Air Force training school at Luke AFB in Arizona in early 2015.
AU-1 and AU-2 were rolled out in late July, and are the first of 72 conventional take-off and landing F-35As currently planned for the RAAF. Long-lead items for a further 12 F-35As have already been funded, with these aircraft expected to form part of the programme's tenth lot of low-rate initial production, for delivery from 2017. A further 58 aircraft were approved by the Australian government in April, for delivery between 2017 and 2021.
The RAAF’s first F-35A squadron will be 3 Sqn, which will re-equip with the jet at Luke AFB in 2018, before returning to Australia to conduct national-specific operational test and evaluation work.
Initial operational capability is scheduled for the service in 2021, and full operational capability of three combat and one training squadrons is planned for late 2023.