Top Gun has come to Williamtown. But this time the Americans are the bad guys.
Elite pilots, intelligence and air combat officers from Australia's air force will be put through their paces in Exercise Diamond Shield, the third stage of a biannual "air warfare instructor course" that kicked off at Williamtown RAAF base on Monday.
Around 80 aircraft, including Super Hornets, Growlers and E-7s will be used in the three-week exercise.
"The idea is you take an expert on one single platform and educate them about all the other platforms and how to utilise them best together," exercise director Group Captain Matthew McCormack said.
"It would equate to the US Navy’s Top Gun or the US Air Force weapon instructor course."
A US Air Force squadron of F-16 Fighting Falcons has flown in from Alaska to act as an adversary of the team of 29 students.
"They'll use their own tactics and fly as the bad guys," Mr McCormack said. "We don’t know what they will do."
Commanding officer of Williamtown's 88 Squadron, Wing Commander Tim Main, said this stage of the six-month course will require the students to develop strategies to fend off the American 18th Aggressors Squadron. He said aircraft will mainly be active from March 18.
"We recently completed Exercise Diamond Seas out at Pearce in Western Australia, that had a maritime focus. And this exercise here, now, has a defensive counter air focus," he said.
"The exercise will be conducted over the water off the coast here in Newcastle. The 18th Aggressors will perform the role of 'red air' so when all the aircraft are getting airborne the aggressors will fly against our 'blue' students."
The last stage of the course will be held in the Northern Territory and will focus on offensive strategies.
Mr Main said he completed the program "many" years ago. It has been running since 1954.
"The course itself is to train our instructors so they will be the tactical experts back at the numerous squadrons involved. We really put them under pressure."
A row of spectators were parked outside the base to watch the first day of exercises unfold at Williamtown RAAF base.
Charles Mika drove up from Newcastle hoping to catch a coordinated landing.
"I heard about it on the radio," Mr Mika said.
"I've been coming since 1969 when they had the French Mirages."
"It’s the adrenaline rush without being in the cockpit," Phillip Sutton of Hawks Nest said.