MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. --
17, 2015 marks the one year anniversary of the F-35B Lightning II’s arrival to
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 and the Pilot Training Center aboard the
Air Station, have trained 16 F-35 pilots to date, and have flown 5,551.5 hours.
F-35’s journey to Beaufort began in 1997, when Lockheed Martin was selected to
participate in the Joint Strike Fighter demonstration phase. Lockheed Martin
won the competition with their X-35 model, and thus came along the F-35.
Production began a few years later, and in 2006, the first F-35 rolled off the
lineage of VMFAT-501 can be traced back to the 1940s when Marine Fighting
Squadron 451 was activated at Marine Corps Air Station Mojave, Calif. After multiple
squadron re-designations, duty station relocations, and aircraft changes, VMFAT-501
uncased its colors aboard MCAS Beaufort July 11, 2014 and received its first
F-35B on July 17, nearly a week later.
F-35B has short take off and vertical landing capabilities, meaning it only
needs approximately 550 feet of runway to execute a short takeoff, which is
about a third of the takeoff distance of the F/A-18.
with its stealth fighter capabilities, the jet has 43,000 pounds of thrust, according
to Lockheed Martin.
is capable of carrying up to 18,000 pounds of ordnance, and can reach speeds up
to 1,200 mph, slightly faster than the F/A-18.
also has a mounted helmet display system to provide pilots with unprecedented
situational awareness. Everything the pilot needs to see is projected on the
helmet’s visor, rather than on a traditional heads-up display. The F-35s
distributed aperture system streams real time imagery from six infrared
cameras mounted around the aircraft to the helmet, allowing pilots to ‘look
through’ the airframe.
hand in hand, the Pilot Training Center and VMFAT-501 train the Corps’ future
pilots to use these capabilities as tactically and lethally as possible.
mission of the squadron is to train pilots and maintenance Marines for the
F-35,” said Lt. Col. Joseph T. Bachmann, the commanding officer of VMFAT-501.
“We currently have 16 pilots, and are three-quarters away from the pilot
training requirements for the year.”
aircraft meets all expectations, but still needs to go through many tests, according
to Sgt. Maj. Eric Siddons, the sergeant major of VMFAT-501
squadron works alongside the UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to build a
working relationship with the F-35 program.
Air Force personnel began arriving in July 2014. On Feb. 3, VMFAT-501 welcomed
its first UK F-35.
is one UK pilot currently assigned to VMFAT-501along with 14 maintainers and
will start to roll off the production line early to mid-next year, and will
slowly increase until 2018,” said Squadron Ldr. Hugh Nichols, the UK senior
national representative with VMFAT-501.
day, we do a little bit of everything,” said Nichols. “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
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 a great achievement.
“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 UK way, to meet a middle
ground,” said Nichols.
With the combined effort of
the two nations, they are able to figure out the most sufficient, safe, and
tactical ways to operate the F-35.
“We had a successful six-week
evolution on the USS Wasp in May,” said Siddons. “But the big test will be when
we go somewhere like Afghanistan and wonder if the jet will fulfill the
expeditionary requirements that the F/A-18 currently does.”
Training the future of Marine
Corps Aviation is the mission of VMFAT-501, and it won’t be much longer until
there is an operational squadron aboard MCAS Beaufort.
“The future is bright, but
there is a lot of work to be done in the next few years,” said Nichols.
“We can perform close air
support, armed reconnaissance, and electronic warfare missions all from the
same jet,” said Bachmann. “That’s what’s exciting about it. We have the element
of surprise. What we can do and see for the Marines on the ground is amazing.”
The F-35 Lightning II is
referred to as a 5th generation fighter, combining advanced stealth
capabilities with fighter aircraft speed and agility, fully-fused sensor
information, network-enabled operations and advanced logistics and sustainment,
according to Lockheed Martin.
“It’s been a great first year
here in Beaufort,” said Siddons. “It’s been challenging, but the Marines,
Lockheed Martin, and our UK brethren have come together, and are meeting and
exceeding all expectations for the F-35. The Marines here work long hard hours,
but I know it’s rewarding to them to see their fellow Marines and pilots exceed
expectations every day.”