For personnel at RAAF Base Williamtown a low-flying F-35A Lightning II is hardly a remarkable sight, but a low pass conducted on August 28 held great significance for Wing Commander Darren Clare.

It was his last flight before handing over command of No. 3 Squadron.

Having flown more than 350 hours in the F-35A, Wing Commander Clare was not only one of the first RAAF pilots selected to transition to the 5th Generation platform but was also selected as the commanding officer of the first Australian squadron to receive the aircraft – an honour he said was one of the most exciting moments in his career.

“When I got the phone call to tell me I was not only going to fly the F-35 but command the first squadron, I was sitting in a taxi with my family about to head on a holiday,” Wing Commander Clare said.

“It was difficult but I had to remain calm because it wasn’t something I could talk about openly in the situation, as the adrenaline kicked in it was even a struggle to hold the phone still.

“The excitement didn’t lessen on the day I went for my first flight in the F-35. The moment signified a key milestone for me as I had reached a long-held career goal.”

Wing Commander Clare said there had been so many memorable moments during his F-35A journey but none that gave him as much pride as watching members of No. 3 Squadron evolve and gain confidence in their abilities.

“The men and women of No. 3 Squadron take a lot of pride in their work and that is what has driven the ongoing success of the capability,” he said. 

“The Air Force is in the middle of a significant transition right now. We are operating a retiring platform as well as learning the tricks to the new one, all the while operating with the same number of people and without reducing the level of air power capability.

“It is humbling to see what the team have been able to achieve. The results have been because of careful planning, ongoing collaboration and ingenuity of our personnel.”

Wing Commander Clare said during the past few months at the squadron it was clear the investment in people had paid off.

“We are conducting the kind of high-level pilot training that produces combat-ready pilots, as well as carrying out maintenance on-the-job training, which has reduced the burden of sending technicians overseas to undertake training,” Wing Commander Clare said. 

“While we are all a little sad to see the Classic Hornet retire, I have no doubts that the F-35A capability will continue to move ahead in leaps and bounds because, in no small part, of the high calibre of the people that are already supporting the platform and those that continue to transition across.

“As I move in to the next stage of my career I wish incoming Commanding Officer Wing Commander Matthew Harper and the whole team at No. 3 Squadron the best of luck as they continue to meet the many milestones they still have ahead of them.”