A major milestone in the anticipated arrival of the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft took place at RAAF Base Williamtown today, with the opening of the first runway extension designed specifically for the next-generation fighter.
The base is currently undergoing a $1.5 billion upgrade, aspects of which include preparation for the arrival of the first of the 72 JSF aircraft in 2018. Works began on the runway in May 2015 to extend it from its current 2,438m to 3,048m in total, with the southeast runway being extended 340 metres, construction of a new taxiway, aircraft safety point and approach lighting.
“The extension of the runway allows the F-35A aircraft to take-off without the use of afterburner, which will reduce noise impacts to the Base and surrounds,” Williamtown Senior Australian Defence Force Officer, Air Commodore Craig Heap said.
“The runway extension works commenced in May 2015 and the success of the project has been the result of the collaborative efforts of a number of local department and community agencies, including those from the Department of Defence, the NACC Project Team, Lend Lease and its contractors, the local Council and Newcastle Airport, as well as significant consultation with environmental agencies and the Wormi Community,” he said.
The first aircraft movement to utilise the extension was one of Newcastle’s regular passenger transport, QantasLink Dash-8 aircraft on its early morning flight out of the region to Brisbane. Although RAAF Williamtown is a military airfield, it also serves as the Newcastle and Hunter regions main civilian airfield catering for 1.2 million passengers per year.
The final aspect of the full runway extension involves extending the northwest runway with works ongoing and expected to be finished in mid 2017.
The first of the total 72 F-35A aircraft will arrive in Australia in 2018 with its first squadron, Number 3 Squadron at Williamtown, operational in 2021. All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.