Trading wings: from Australian F/A-18 Hornet to U.S. F-22 Raptor

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sergio Gamboa
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

Many children around the world dream of becoming an air force pilot. The dream was no different for one young boy from Sydney, Australia, but it didn’t come easy for him.

“I always wanted to join the Air Force,” said Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Flight Lt. Paul Anderton. “I initially didn’t get selected to go to the [Royal Australian Air Force] academy, so I had to go to a university and work hard to make my dreams come true.”

After joining the air force, Anderton became an F/A-18 Hornet pilot and went to weapons officer training course, where only a select few attend. Being a weapons officer brings new opportunities for pilots and for Anderton, it brought him to the U.S. Air Force.

The military personnel exchange program dates back to World War II. The 90th Fighter Squadron (FS), now at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, along with the RAAF, developed the program where an Australian pilot is embedded with the 90th FS ‘Dicemen,’ learns their mission and becomes one of them.

“I was humbled to get to do a job that is exclusive and blown away to be able to fly the F-22 Raptor,” said Anderton, now an exchange officer and F-22 Raptor pilot with the 90th FS. “I certainly like to think skill was involved with me coming here, but I was at the right place at the right time.”

Flying officer Edward Mobsby was the first Australian who became a Diceman in 1942. Since then, there has been an Australian pilot with the unit, and now Anderton has the privilege to be that pilot.

“Anderton has done incredibly well,” said Maj. Joshua Gunderson, F-22 pilot with the 90th FS. “We get some great quality from the pilots coming from Australia. They always send us their top-tier fighter pilots and we can’t thank them enough for that. Having him in the squadron every day has been very beneficial to us.”

Prior to becoming a Raptor pilot, Anderton spent eight years as a pilot on the Hornet garnering over 1,400 flying hours.

“The transition from the aircraft was exciting and a challenge to do,” he said. “There were definitely some similarities, like handling, but the Raptor’s performance, from the engine to what it can do is unmatched. It’s unbelievable what this jet can do.

“I didn’t realize how many things I have taken for granted,” added Anderton. “Flying the Hornet had become second nature to me. I didn’t have that familiarity with the [F-22], and it was a learning curve getting to know it. Now I’m certainly feeling comfortable with it.”

With more than a century of mateship, the exchange program and other events help build on the U.S.-Australia relationship.

Most recently, three 90th FS pilots, including Anderton, their maintenance crew and two F-22’s participated at the 2019 Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition (AVALON 2019) at Geelong, Victoria, Australia, from Feb. 26 to March 3, 2019.

“The program and airshow strengthens the relationship,” said Anderton. “Our [RAAF] tactics, techniques and procedures mirror the U.S. Air Force and ultimately means that when we fly as a coalition, we understand each other and learn the same lessons.”