Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 and it’s a beautiful day in Yuma, AZ. A large crowd of hundreds is gathering at MCAS Yuma, and the crowds included dignitaries such as General James Amos, the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, former U.S. Navy pilot and Vietnam War P.O.W., Senator John McCain, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, and many others including the media, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 personnel and family members.
The reason for this gathering was to hold a ceremony to re-designate Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, formerly an F/A-18 Hornet squadron to the Corps’ first operational F-35 squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121. This was s a historic day for Marine Corps Aviation, as the first two Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II’s, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter were delivered to the newly designated Marine squadron.
The F-35B, a short takeoff and vertical landing fighter, is slated to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler. It will provide multi-role, fifth-generation capabilities in the form of one common tactical fixed-wing aircraft, reducing maintenance costs while ensuring the Marine Corps maintains the tactical aircraft dominance required to deter potential adversaries and protect the nation’s interests.
“For the first time in aviation history, the most lethal fighter characteristics, supersonic speed, radar-evading stealth, extreme agility, short takeoff/vertical landing capability, and an impressive array of 21st Century weapons have been combined in a single platform” stated Amos.
The F-35B supports the Marine Corps’ tactical and operational needs for close air support in austere conditions and locations that may be inaccessible to traditional fighters. Thanks to its short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities, the F-35B can operate from expeditionary airfields in remote, non-permissive environments with shorter runways, contributing to the Marine Corps’ role as the nation’s expeditionary force-in-readiness.
I was able to spend a few minutes with Major Aric Liberman, who flew both Lightning II’s from Fort Worth, Texas, to MCAS Yuma. I had three specific questions for him.
Q: “How does she fly?”
A: “Smooth, she’s fly-by-wire and she handles very well. I haven’t had the chance to go vertical yet, and I believe all of the pilots will be really impressed with her handling and controls.”
Q: “Since Hornet pilots don’t do the whole vertical thing, and Harrier pilots don’t do a lot of supersonic flight and air combat training, who will have the hardest time transitioning into the F-35?”
A: “I believe that both Hornet and Harrier pilots will have sufficient training, and since Marine pilots are highly skilled aviators, there should be a short learning curve for all.”
Q: “Since the majority of their mission is ground support, will the Harrier pilots be pulled from their units, and sent to the VMFAT F/A-18 training units to get more air to air combat training,
A: “No, I don’t believe that will happen. Harrier pilots do get some air combat training right now, and when going through the training with the F-35, they will see plenty of air combat training”.
With the delivery of these two planes to MCAS Yuma, VMFA-121, will become the first operation F-35 squadron in the world, and will be receiving approximately two planes per month, until the squadron is complete with 16 planes, and the plans are for there to be 5 squadrons of F-35’s by 2016.
I’d like to thank the Base’s Public Affairs Officer, Captain Redinger, Gunnery Sergeant Dunk, and the rest of MCAS Yuma’s PAO staff for making my visit extremely pleasurable and given easy access to the plane, the flight line, and to the F-35B’s pilot Major Aric Liberman.
F-35B’s Delivered to MCAS Yuma by Douglas Aguillard