Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Meet the Australian pilot flying F-22s with the USAF in the NT

Stealth, super cruise, integrated avionics and super maneuverability allow USAF pilots to perform at a level that other platforms just can't meet.

 Ft Lt William Grady, 90th Fighter Squadron USAF (left) and USAF Lt Cnl David Skalicky  (Photo: Aust Defence Image Library)
Ft Lt William Grady, 90th Fighter Squadron USAF (left) and USAF Lt Cnl David Skalicky (Photo: Aust Defence Image Library)
Published 1 Mar 2017 

Last week the Lowy Institute's International Security Program director Euan Graham recorded an interview with David Skalicky, the USAF Lieutenant Colonel leading the 90th Fighter Squadron, currently deployed to RAAF Base Tindal, in the Northern Territory. In that interview we revealed that one of LT COL Skalicky's F-22 pilots is an Australian serving with the US Air Force on a three-year exchange. In the following exchange, Dr Graham quizzes the RAAF’s Flight Lieutenant William Grady about his return to Australia.

As an Australian on exchange with the 90th FS do you have a 'home advantage' interacting with RAAF F/A-18s and other aircraft?

Absolutely. Having flown the FA-18A for six years (with three of those years spent at 75SQN at RAAF Base Tindal) I feel like I'm in a very unique position. I understand how each force operates and have tried very hard to leverage this knowledge to take our integration to the next level. In the past, F-18s and F-22s have worked together in exercises like Red Flag but this event marks the first time we have been able to really explore detailed integration. It has been a huge success and great to see that all participants (RAAF E-7, Control Reporting Unit and F-18 squadrons as well as USAF KC-135, C-17 and F-22 units) were able to achieve their learning objectives

How did you get selected as a pilot for the US Air Force’s most capable fighter aircraft?

I was selected through what is called an 'Expression of Interest' or EOI process. This is a standard RAAF selection process for overseas or special positions. It involves submitting a brief description of flying hours, qualifications, positions held as well as justification of suitability for the position. The F22 exchange is open to any 4-ship flight lead with over 1000 hours of fast jet flight time. Needless to say, I was incredibly fortunate to be selected and am deeply honored to be able to represent my country in this role.

How does the experience of piloting the F-22 compare with other combat aircraft you have flown?

It is a truly amazing aircraft, one that definitely lives up to the hype of a 5th generation platform. Stealth, super cruise, integrated avionics and super maneuverability allow USAF pilots to perform at a level that other platforms just can't meet. In one respect this is fantastic. It means every day we are able to challenge ourselves and take tactics to the next level. But it can also be very humbling as there are very few excuses when things don't quite go to plan. I enjoy flying the aircraft immensely. It's also important to note that while the F-22 is at the cutting edge of technology, platforms like Australia's FA-18 and F-18F are still hugely capable in their multi-role mission sets. In fact, when we integrate together, we act to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses which is why this training opportunity has been so successful.

How much longer will you remain on exchange to USAF?

So far, I have completed 2.5 years with the 90th Fighter Squadron and I have about 10 months to go. I've made some great friends during that time and will be sad to leave. It has gone quickly for me and whilst I know it will be over soon, I also look forward to bringing some of my experiences and newly learned knowledge of 5th generation tactics back to Australia.

Are you fully subordinate to US command while on exchange? Does the RAAF get a say on operations you take part in?

The premise of the exchange has always been focused on empowering the USAF and the 90th Fighter Squadron to utilise their exchange pilot as a fully integrated member of the 90th. And in this respect, I am fully immersed in all of the local training, exercises and deployment actions that the 90th takes part in (or may be asked to complete in the future). That being said, I am still an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force and whenever the squadron participates outside its normal remit, the RAAF and ultimately the Australian Government has the opportunity to withhold my participation or apply national caveats.

What happens after you revert to RAAF? How do feel about the prospect of 'slumming it' back on 4th generation aircraft?

Well firstly, I would definitely avoid that terminology! My Australian friends may kill me if they ever heard me say that! In all seriousness though, I wouldn't mind in the slightest. Watching 75SQN get the job done  last week has reminded me just how much fun and just how much gratification you can get from flying a 4th gen aircraft. I truly value my '4th gen' upbringing as I believe it was that experiential learning that has made me a better 5th generation pilot - hopefully capable of understanding what everyone in a force package is experiencing and what limitations (and capabilities) they bring to the fight. Fingers crossed my path brings me into contact with F-35 in the future so I can continue to help Australia and the RAAF build upon its 5th generation force BUT if the worst thing that happened to me was to be posted back to a hornet squadron in Australia, I'd consider myself extremely lucky.

You may also be interested in