F-35B in Beaufort: One Year Anniversary
July 17, 2015 marks the one year anniversary of the F-35B Lightning II’s arrival to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
Marine 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.
The 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 production line.
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.
The 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.
Along with its stealth fighter capabilities, the jet has 43,000 pounds of thrust, according to Lockheed Martin.
The jet 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.
The jet 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.
Working 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.
“The 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.”
The aircraft meets all expectations, but still needs to go through many tests, according to Sgt. Maj. Eric Siddons, the sergeant major of VMFAT-501.
The squadron works alongside the UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to build a working relationship with the F-35 program.