Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 (TS23) - Four U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II STOVL Stealth Fighter Jets Touch Down at Rockhampton Airport - Plus Ospreys - And More!

A historic day for Central Queensland Plane Spotters on Wednesday 26 July, as four U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II STOVL Stealth Fighter Jets touched down for the first time ever at Rockhampton Airport.

The four F-35s flew into Rockhampton Airport direct from the United States Navy (USN) Ship USS America (LHA-6), where they have been deployed to participate in joint Military Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023 (TS23).  The USS America is believed to be currently in waters near the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA).

The F-35Bs were identified as 169695 (DT-12), 169627 (DT-05), 169681 (DT-09) and 169618 (DT-07) and are flown by the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 242 (VMFA-242) known as the 'Bats'.  The Squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12) and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW).

The four F-35s were heard to be using the radio callsign of "Duke 51 Flight".

Due to parking restrictions at Rockhampton Airport, the four F-35s were parked on the brand new apron outside of the brand new Alliance Airlines maintenance hangar.

A little earlier in the day, also on Wednesday 26 July, fellow U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Bell Boeing MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft 168629 (EP-10) also called into Rockhampton Airport, again flying in from the USS America.  It was heard to be using the radio callsign of "Bowser 34" and looked unload some ground staff at the Alliance Airlines hangar before then taxiing to Taxiway Lima for refuel.  It then returned to the ship.

Of interest, the Osprey is flown by the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (VMM-265) "Dragons", which is also part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW).

Later on Wednesday 26 July, three of the four F-35Bs departed Rockhampton Airport for the Exercise Area within the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) before then returning to the USS America.  

The fourth F-35B, 169618 (DT-07) remained parked at Rockhampton Airport with a technical problem and soon after, F-35B 169627 (DT-05) as "Duke 53" in fact returned to Rockhampton Airport.

Unfortunately, the technical problem was not able to be rectified and DT-07 remained parked at Rockhampton Airport for the night.  F-35B DT-05 departed Rockhampton Airport once again as "Duke 51" for the USS America.

MV-22B Osprey 168629 (EP-10) "Bowser 34" also returned to Rockhampton Airport to collect ground crew and other equipment before again returning to the USS America.

Later still, fellow MV-22B Osprey 168243 (EP-00) as "Bowser 33" also visited Rockhampton Airport from the USS America.

It is anticipated the F-35B DT-07 will depart Rockhampton Airport early on Thursday 27 July, and again it is expected that there would be an Osprey to visit Rockhampton Airport to provide ground crew and other support.

Of interest, the F-35B Lightning II is the Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter and features a vertical lift fan and pivoting engine nozzle to deliver vertical landing and short take-off capability to expeditionary airfields.  The F-35Bs have replaced AV-8B Harrier IIs in the USMC inventory.

Finally, to cap an awesome day off, also on Wednesday 26 July, United States Air Force (USAF) Lockheed MC-130J Commando II Hercules aircraft 20-5946 as "Rogue 74" also called into Rockhampton Airport.

It looked to arrive from the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) and then later depart to RAAF Base Richmond - where it and three other MC-130Js are currently base.  As mentioned, these Hercs are flown by the USAF 1st Special Operations Squadron (1 SOS) which is part of the 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base in Japan.

A truly fantastic day, and we sincerely think the local plane spotters for taking the time to capture and send through these great photos of a little piece of history for CQ Plane Spotting!

Photos taken by Scott Harris, 'IAD', Don Williams and Trevor Hardsman  ©

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