High-flying PM channels his inner Maverick

Daniel McCulloch and Paul Osborne
·2-min read

Scott Morrison bounded into the air force base as the Top Gun theme song blared over the speakers.

Little did the prime minister know his photo opportunity was on course to become a highway to the Danger Zone.

Mr Morrison channelled his inner Maverick as he climbed into the cockpit of an F-35 fighter jet flashing a broad smile and thumbs up.

Movie buffs were quick to compare his performance with Tom Cruise in the 1986 blockbuster hit.

But as he settled into the mean machine, some eagle-eyed photographers spotted an ominous sign stamped onto the plane.

"Danger: Ejection seat."

Mr Morrison was at the RAAF Base Williamtown to announce the Hunter Valley site would become a regional hub for maintenance and upgrade of Australia's $65 billion Joint Strike Fighter program.

"Everyone who is involved in this project is a top gun in my view," he told the gathered crowd.

As well as servicing RAAF aircraft, the maintenance depot will host aircraft from Japan, Korea and Singapore.

"This is about protecting and securing Australia's interests but it's also creating jobs and driving investment right here in the Hunter and across the country too," Mr Morrison said.

"This induction demonstrates the world-leading capability of our local defence industry here in Australia."

More than 50 companies will share in $2.7 billion worth of contracts as part of the F-35 program.

The program is on budget and on schedule, with work under way on routine structural modifications to improve the airframe.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said there were 41 fully trained RAAF pilots, nine of whom trained on home soil at RAAF Base Williamtown.

"We also have more than 225 trained technicians as the RAAF's F-35A maintenance capability continues to develop."

Lockheed Martin Australia is providing training support for more than 70 personnel to be employed at Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal.

BAE Systems Australia recently hired 25 former Jetstar employees who had been made redundant as a result of the pandemic.

The first F-35A aircraft arrived in Australia in December 2018, with the first F-35A squadron, No. 3 Squadron, to be operational this year.

All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.

They replace the ageing F/A-18A/B Hornets which have been in RAAF service since 1985.