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July 22, 2010
By ABCIS Melanie Schinkel
FLYING Air Force fast jets was too
good an opportunity to resist for
a Navy pilot who recently duxed
the F/A-18 operational conversion
(OPCON) course -- culminated by
Exercise High Sierra in Townsville.
LEUT Todd Woodford, 23, was one
of six pilots to graduate from the 2
Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU)
at RAAF Base Williamtown on July 5
and, at the time of going to press, was
preparing for his move to RAAF Base
Tindal where he will fly the F/A-18 as
a D-category pilot from July 14.
LEUT Woodford said he joined the
Navy in 2004 because he intended to
fly helicopters, but was offered the
chance to undergo fast-jet training
with the RAAF when he earned his
wings in 2008.
"I was asked if I wanted to do the
training and the opportunity seemed
too good to refuse," LEUT Woodford
"I have been posted to 75SQN
and was told I have to transfer to
the RAAF, although I'm in no hurry
because being a Navy F/A-18 pilot is
pretty cool. I would be happy to stay
in the Navy but soon I will be a flight
lieutenant instead of a lieutenant."
His training to become a fast-jet
pilot comprised three months basic
Hawk conversion training at RAAF
Base Pearce, six months tactical Hawk
training at RAAF Base Williamtown
and six months of Hawk flying skills
Navy pilot blitzes Air Force
consolidation before the F/A-18
OPCON course in January this year.
The F/A-18 OPCON course was
six months of training in all flying
roles the F/A-18 was capable, includ-
ing day and night flying, dog-fighting
and air-to-surface attacks, and about
140 syllabus events, 40 hours in the
simulator and 80 hours of dog-fighting
"The standards were very high
because the instructors didn't accept
many mistakes, so it was a very adult
learning environment and you had to
grow-up really quickly," he said.
"The fourth flight in the F/A-18 I
flew solo, so it was pretty full-on and
just straight into it."
In comparison to the Hawk lead-in
fighter, LEUT Woodford said the F/A-
18 had an overall increased size and
"Obviously, the F/A-18 is a lot big-
ger and it can go a lot further, higher
and faster," he said.
"It just has so many more systems
and 'toys' to play with, so you have
to get used to all the extra systems on
board because you can do so much
more with it."
The OPCON course culminated
with Exercise High Sierra, which
involved the pilots deploying to RAAF
Base Townsville for three weeks to
demonstrate all the skills they learnt
LEUT Woodford said a typical
exercise mission included taking off
as a four-ship formation to conduct air-
to-air refuelling with a civilian tanker.
The pilots then fought their way
into a target area against up to eight
enemy aircraft where they dropped
live 500lb and 1000lb unguided
bombs, and 500lb laser-guided pre-
cision bombs on Townsville's High
Range bombing range.
He said the missions were conduct-
ed solo or as a 'wingman' and were
the chance to show the instructors the
pilots were ready to join an operational
"At the end of the exercise we
were no longer students and given our
squadron patches," he said.
"The feeling of relief and excite-
ment at the end of three-and-a-half
years of intensive flying training was
indescribable and made all the hard
LEUT Woodford was awarded an
academic proficiency award and dux
of the OPCON course, while PLTOFF
Michael Keightley was awarded the
prize for weapons proficiency.
NEED FOR SPEED: LEUT Todd Woodford recently topped the RAAF
F/A-18 operational conversion course in Williamtown, NSW, and will
soon transfer to the RAAF to pursue his dreams of a career flying fast
jets. While LEUT Woodford loves the RAN, the oppportunity to fly fast
jets was too good to refuse.
Photo: LAC Craig Barrett
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