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First F-35B arrives in Beaufort

By Sgt. Marcy Sanchez | | July 18, 2014

The first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501(VMFAT-501) arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, July 17.

The aircraft is the first to join VMFAT-501 at MCAS Beaufort since relocating from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. late last week. The squadron was temporarily located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in order to allow infrastructure upgrades to support VMFAT-501’s mission aboard MCAS Beaufort. Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 commenced operations with the F-35B aboard Eglin AFB in May 2012.

“The F-35 is the most advanced fighter in the world,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Bachmann, the commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 and F-35B pilot whom piloted the aircraft into Beaufort. “The best part about this airplane getting here today is for the Marines to start working on completing the maintenance training and getting ready to start organic operations within the end of the year.”

The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will replace the Marine Corps’ aging legacy tactical fleet. In addition to replacing the F/A-18A-D Hornet, the Marine Corps will replace the AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler, essentially necking down to one common tactical fixed-wing aircraft. The integration of the F-35B/C strike fighters will provide the dominant, multi-role, fifth-generation capabilities needed across the full spectrum of combat operations to deter potential adversaries and enable future naval aviation power projection.

The F-35B’s Short Takeoff Vertical Landing (STOVL) capability will allow the Marine Corps to operate in harsh conditions and from remote locations where few airfields are available for conventional aircraft. It is also specifically designed to operate from amphibious ships—a capability that no other tactical aircraft possesses.

“Today marks a new chapter in Marine Corps aviation,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Fitzgerald, the executive officer of MCAS Beaufort. “We’re extremely proud of all the Marines, sailors and civilians that made it possible for the F-35 to touchdown today in Beaufort and call it home.

“We must remember that our adversaries mean to do us harm so it is very important for us to stay one step ahead of our enemies on the cutting edge of technology in order to support our warfighters.”

Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is the Marine Corps’ only F-35B training site, allowing the Navy to expand F-35C training capacity at Eglin AFB.