Final fighter pilots to train on the F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet fly over Williamtown

Love: Flight lieutenant Russell with partner Kate Smith, who said she was "so proud". He's been training for most of their eight month relationship. "It's inspiring seeing him work so hard for what he wants." Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Love: Flight lieutenant Russell with partner Kate Smith, who said she was "so proud". He's been training for most of their eight month relationship. "It's inspiring seeing him work so hard for what he wants." Picture: Jonathan Carroll

RAAF flight lieutenant Russell remembers watching Independence Day as a child, wide-eyed at the "old school classic hornets".

They were part of the reason he joined the air force in 2005.

More than a decade later, flight lieutenant Russell, 31, was part of RAAF history when his cohort of six was the last to complete the six-month F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet operational conversion course.

From now on, aspiring fighter pilots will complete their training on the F-35A Lightning II.

"To finish out that boyhood dream... is amazing," he said.

"It's 30 years of evolution to get to the point with these jets that we've got.

"But just because the jets are finishing up, the way we train, the way we fight, the way we're going to employ the tactics [will be the same], we're just going to do that with better jets.

"It's nostalgic to see them go because it's something you've looked at for years and then being a part of it is a bit surreal.

"They've got a well earned rest and they can be put to bed peacefully in a couple of years."

The six fighter pilots were joined by four other aircraft from the fighter training unit, No 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU), to conduct a low formation flight over RAAF Williamtown before landing.

"Coming back over the base it was definitely a moment where you realise it's a culmination of just so many years of trying to get to it and today it's happening," he said.

"This course has been wild ride. I feel relief, humility and gratitude for the effort of all the staff and what they've done for us."

The cohort had just completed Exercise High Sierra 19 - the last three weeks of their course - in Townsville.

He said it was the toughest but most enjoyable portion of the difficult program.

"For each couple of weeks of the course you'd be doing something different and then for this last three weeks we put it all together in every flight," he said.

"I did run a marathon once with about 10 days notice and preparation and got to 35 kilometre mark and thought that was the hardest thing I'd ever done.

"I reckon I got about two months into the course and it felt the same."

It was the pilots' last flight before graduation.

Adelaide-raised flight lieutenant Russell and another pilot will be posted to No 1 Squadron in Amberley to fly the twin-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet after further training.

He wants to become an instructor, to "give back".

The other four will stay on the hornet, two at No 77 Squadron in Williamtown and two with No 75 Squadron in Tindal.

These squadrons will transition to the F-35A at the end of 2020 and 2021 respectively.

2OCU Commander, Wing Commander Scott Woodland, said 2OCU would start training students on the F-35A in mid-2020.