One of the first Australian F-35A Lightning II pilots and the first F-35-era No. 3 Squadron commander handed over the squadron to its second boss last month.
CAPTION: Outgoing Commanding Officer No. 3 Squadron Wing Commander Darren Clare and his successor Wing Commander Matthew Harper fly over Newcastle shortly before their change-of-command ceremony. Photo by Sergeant David Gibbs. Story by Flight Lieutenant Alyssa Vickridge.
Wing Commander Darren Clare handed over the squadron to Wing Commander Matthew Harper on 28 August after taking one last flight in the fifth-generation fighter he loves.
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 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 that, during his last 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,” 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 who continue to transition across.
“As I move in to the next stage of my career, I wish 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.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Published on the “Defence News” web site 12 days after the event.