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Australia’s F-35A fleet grows to 44 with latest ferry flight

Australian F-35A
New F-35A Lightning II aircraft taxi to the lines at RAAF Base Williamtown. Photo: Royal Australian Air Force

The Royal Australian Air Force has now received 44 of the planned 72 F-35A Lightning II aircraft after three more airframes landed at RAAF Base Williamtown on November 18.

The newest aircraft to join the fleet have been accepted by No. 77 Squadron, which transited the three F-35As from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, United States, through Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to Australia as part of exercise Lightning Ferry 21-4.

Commanding Officer No. 77 Squadron Wing Commander Tim Ireland said it was an important step for the squadron’s growth after re-equipping with F 35A aircraft this year.

“Our focus in 2021 has been to stand-up an F-35A combat ready team,” Wing Commander Ireland said.

“The additional aircraft will help us generate a ready force able to integrate into a high-end all domain fight.”

Before the transit to Australia, No. 77 Squadron participated in exercise Lighting Spear 21 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, from November 1 to 5.

Wing Commander Ireland said Lightning Spear was an operational test activity for No. 81 Wing aimed to verify weapons integration.

“The consecutive activities of Lightning Spear and Lightning Ferry demonstrates No. 77 Squadron’s agility and maturity at operating with our latest F-35A capability,” he said.

“The F-35A is the seventh fighter that No. 77 Squadron has operated. It’s humbling to be a part of such a significant phase of our proud 79-year history.”

The latest aircraft ferried across the Pacific as part of exercise Lightning Ferry 21-4 was the final delivery task of 2021.

This year’s first three-ship ferry flight was dubbed Lightning Ferry 21-1 and took place in March. This means that Lockheed delivered a total of 14 of the fifth-generation fighters to Australia this year.

The first F-35A aircraft was accepted into Australian service in 2018, with the first arriving in country in December that year. After all 72 aircraft reach full operational capability, expected by 2023, the country will consider another 28 airframes for a fourth operational squadron at RAAF Base Amberley.