Photo Information

A pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 exits his aircraft after returning from the first operational test of the F-35B Lightning II, May 29. VMFAT-501 spent 11 days onboard the USS Wasp to demonstrate the capability of the F-35B to deploy onboard an amphibious ship.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Jonah V. Lovy

UK pilots and maintainers to arrive in Beaufort

13 Nov 2015 | Lance Cpl. Jonah Lovy Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 is slated to receive more pilots and maintainers from the U.K. in the next few months. The incoming personnel will join their countrymen who are working side by side with Marines on improving their capability with the F-35B Lightning II aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.  

There are currently 14 U.K. service members at VMFAT-501. The British operators have been in Beaufort since February 2015, when the Royal Air Force flew three F-35s to Fightertown.

“Day to day, we do a little bit of everything,” said Squadron Ldr. Hugh Nichols, the U.K. senior national representative with VMFAT-501. “From teaching the new pilots, which is our main focus, to generating a syllabus as we look at new capabilities and roles the F-35 can fill, and how we can teach them to the new pilots.”

            Expanding their manpower in Beaufort is a step forward for the U.K.’s goal of achieving F-35 capabilities. In 2018, the plan is for U.K.'s F-35 team to achieve initial operating capability in a land-based role and aboard the future HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier in 2020.

"The fact that we can operate from VMFAT-501 for the next couple years means we will be ahead of the game when it comes to developing our own capabilities back on U.K. soil come 2018," said Lieutenant Commander Beth Kitchen, the U.K. senior engineering officer at VMFAT-501.

            The teamwork between the two nations is crucial to the international aspect of the F-35. No one country is solely responsible for its use so diplomacy is important.

“The concept of us working together is that we will all come out at the end of this with a right way of operating the F-35, as opposed to the Marine Corps or U.K. way, to meet a middle ground,” said Nichols.

The international team is fully integrated in the Marine unit, working together to gain proficiency with the brand new jet. Service members will take the knowledge and skills they learn in this training environment and bring it to their operational units.

“We are making sure that the aircraft is maintained and the U.K. is able to develop its own engineering maintenance and air competency in order to independently operate the aircraft,” said Kitchen. 

In addition to the new pilots and maintainers arriving at the air station, the Royal Air Force is currently building their own Pilot Training Center. The U.K. plans to eventually purchase and maintain their own F-35s.

“Jets will start to roll off the production line early to mid-next year, and will slowly increase until 2018,” said Nichols.

The U.K. is planning to continue expanding their capabilities at VMFAT-501 for the next few years. The F-35 is the U.K.’s future maritime strike ground attack fighter aircraft.

“I think it’s a huge achievement with how complex the program is, the different services we’ve got, and different languages,” said Nichols. “The fact that we can mesh it all together is outstanding.”

With the expanded capabilities of the U.K. and the continued diligence of the Marines, both sides are able to figure out the most sufficient, safe, and tactical ways to operate the F-35.