Just Getting Started: NAS Lemoore Stands up First F-35C West Coast Squadron
Jan. 25, four F-35Cs touched down at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, greeted by the U.S. Navy, members of the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin leadership. The four aircraft are the first F-35Cs to join the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the Rough Raiders. On Jan. 12, 2017, the Navy re-established the Rough Raiders, a former F/A-18 Hornet training squadron, as the West Coast-based F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS).
“It was my first squadron as a student at NAS Lemoore in 1999, and to re-establish it as the commanding officer makes me tremendously proud of the Sailors and the F-35 program,” said Cmdr. John Turner, commanding officer of VFA-125. “There is no other place that 5th Generation fighters should be.”
The F-35Cs ferried from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, home of the Navy’s first F-35C FRS squadron, the Grim Reapers of VFA-101, who received their first jets in 2013.
With this move, the F-35C begins the next phase of fleet expansion and training that will ensure readiness to join the Navy’s future Carrier Air Wing. The Navy sees the F-35C as providing critical capabilities to its carrier air wings and realizing its vision of a network-centric Carrier Strike Group.
More than 60 members from the Lockheed Martin team have been stationed at NAS Lemoore, supporting the Navy as it prepared to receive the initial four F-35s. The team worked around the clock to establish all of the different sustainment disciplines to support the site, such as fielding an operational ALIS, preparing and installing the F-35 full-mission simulators and training the maintainers who will work on the aircraft.
“It’s very rewarding to be here for this moment,” said Chris Kennedy, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 senior site manager at NAS Lemoore. “To be boots on the ground and actually establish the site has been a truly amazing experience. I couldn’t be prouder of the people working here at Lemoore and across the program who have helped make sure we provide the best product for our customer.”
Above all, Chris stressed the team effort that has brought the F-35 enterprise to yet another major milestone in the first month of the New Year.
“When the F-35s arrived, you could see the excitement on the faces of the Navy sailors,” said Chris. “They’re ready to fly and maintain this aircraft, and we stand ready to support their mission.”
Naval Air Station Lemoore, located in California’s central valley, is the Navy’s designated hub for its strike fighter community supporting the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Now, the air station serves as the hub of F-35C training on the West Coast.
Back at the F-35 factory in Fort Worth, Texas, Eric Gull, the chief engineer for the F-35C, looks back on some of the challenges the aircraft faced on the road to standing up the Navy’s first F-35C base, particularly when early flight testing of the aircraft revealed the initial arresting hook system design did not ensure high boarding rates for the pilots.
“When we discovered the issue, a dedicated team of Joint Program Office, Naval Air System Command and Lockheed Martin experts immediately went to work, redesigning and testing the upgraded system,” said Eric. “As a result, the current hook system has shown engagement rates as high as or higher than legacy aircraft.”
As the Navy continues to explore the aircraft’s capabilities through concept of operations and tactics development, Eric’s team will continue to take lessons learned and feed those back through the design process to provide continuous improvements through the life of the aircraft.
“Seeing the jet transitioning to operational use is the high point of my 30 years of involvement in Naval aviation development,” said Eric. “This marks a significant step forward in the integration of the F-35 air system into the Navy’s arsenal and the path toward initial operational capability.”
Looking ahead at the F-35C’s future, you’ll realize the Navy is just getting started with its plans for the F-35C. Next year, VFA-147, or the Argonauts, will stand up in NAS Lemoore. In 2018, the Argonauts will be the first F-35C squadron to declare F-35C initial operational capability. By 2028, a total of 100 F-35Cs will be based at NAS Lemoore across seven Navy Pacific Fleet squadrons and the FRS.
With the initial four F-35Cs at NAS Lemoore, and additional aircraft expected to arrive in the coming months, the team remains focused on supporting the Navy’s mission to win wars, deter aggression and maintain freedom of the seas.