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Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), the Marine Corps' only F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter training squadron, completed their first F-35B Lightning II takeoff supported entirely by Marine maintainers aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., Sept. 4. The squadron's F-35B Lightning II aircraft, designed by Lockheed Martin, is normally maintained by both Marine maintainers and Lockheed Martin technicians making the squadron's 100 percent Marine maintenance paramount for aircraft operations in deployed environments. The F-35B Lightning II JSF 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.

Photo by Cpl. Sarah Cherry

Warlords perform first F-35B flight

12 Sep 2014 | Cpl. Sarah Cherry

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 executed the first F-35B  Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter flight supported entirely by Marine maintenance, Sept. 4.
Maj. Michael Rountree, the aircraft maintenance officer of VMFAT-501, piloted the flight.
“It’s the culmination of the past three years of preparation and training and hard work to get the maintenance department trained, set-up and moved to Beaufort from Eglin,” said Rountree, a native of Houston, Texas. “It feels pretty good. We passed our safe for flight inspection with flying colors due to the experience and professionalism of our maintenance Marines. 
“Just seeing such high marks and great results as the maintenance officer makes me proud to be a part of this effort and a part of this squadron,” he said.
The F-35B is intended to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers. Hornets were first introduced to the Marine Corps in 1983, replacing the A4 Skyhawk and F4 Phantom II.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons 115, 122, 251 and 312 first received F/A-18s between 1985 and 1987, while Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadrons 224 and 533 first received F/A-18s in 1992 and 1993.
“The Marines understand the historical significance of this plane and this program,” said Rountree. “Marines are putting in a greater level of rigor, attention to detail and thoughtful maintenance practices so that we can ensure that we are doing it right the first time. They are building the legacy of the F-35 on a solid foundation.”
Once the aircraft are fully operational, VMFAT-501 plans to train student pilots on the F-35B platform. Before relocating to the Air Station, the Warlords qualified more than 40 Marine Corps F-35B pilots. 
The squadron plans to eventually graduate 60 pilots a year.
“At the end of the day, the reason we exist is to provide combat power for the United States of America,” said Rountree. “VMFAT-501 assists with that by enabling the Marine Corps to continue to support the United States with the combat power of trained F35 pilots and maintainers.”