New F‑35B joint strike fighters arrive at Eglin

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — A res­o­lu­tion to be even more expe­di­tionary will be met this year, now that Marines here received their first two F‑35B Light­ning II vari­ants of DoD’s fifth gen­er­a­tion fight­er Jan. 11.

DoD’s first pro­duc­tion F‑35B Light­ning II joint strike fight­er soars over Des­tin, Fla., on its way to its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The Marine vari­ant of the JSF belongs to Marine Fight­er Attack Squadron 501. The Marines of VMFAT-501 received two F‑35Bs Jan. 11. Both air­craft were escort­ed in by Marine F‑18 Hor­nets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joe­ly San­ti­a­go)
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At the 33rd Fight­er Wing, Marine Fight­er Attack Train­ing Squadron 501 is the home for the new air­craft where its “War­lords,” pilots and main­tain­ers, reside with a team of oth­er pro­fes­sion­als in prepa­ra­tion to deploy out any­where in the world for the nation’s defense. 

“The wing gain­ing anoth­er vari­ant of the F‑35 marks a sig­nif­i­cant step in the stand up of the F‑35 pilot and main­te­nance train­ing here,” said Col. Andrew Toth, the 33rd Fight­er Wing com­man­der. “The inte­gra­tion of the F‑35B/C strike fight­ers will pro­vide dom­i­nant, mul­ti-role, fifth gen­er­a­tion capa­bil­i­ties need­ed across the full spec­trum of com­bat oper­a­tions to deter poten­tial adversaries.” 

Marine Maj. Joseph Bach­mann, the wing’s first F‑35 pilot fer­ried the first of his service’s two joint strike fight­er vari­ants from Lock­heed Mar­tin head­quar­ters in Fort Worth, Texas. Two F‑18 escorts from the 2nd Marine Air­craft Wing escort­ed the F‑35 to rep­re­sent the wing the War­lords’ report to for fly­ing operations. 

“The Marine Corps has to be ready to fight across the spec­trum of war; a force that is most ready when the nation is least ready. The F‑35B gives us the capa­bil­i­ty to do just that,” said Maj. Gen. Jon M. Davis, com­mand­ing gen­er­al of 2nd MAW

With the lat­est addi­tion to the fleet, the 33rd FW has a total of eight joint strike fight­ers with Air Force vari­ants arriv­ing last sum­mer. Three dis­tinct vari­ants of the F‑35 will replace the A‑10 and F‑16 for the Air Force, the F/A‑18 for the Navy, the F/A‑18 and AV‑B Har­ri­er for the Marines and a vari­ety of fight­ers for at least nine oth­er countries. 

“The STOVL capa­bil­i­ty of the F‑35B will enable us to deploy with the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and ensure these fifth-gen­er­a­tion capa­bil­i­ties are avail­able when need­ed,” said Lt. Col. James B. Wellons, com­mand­ing offi­cer of VMFAT-501. “Our mis­sion is to con­duct F‑35B oper­a­tions in coor­di­na­tion with our joint and coali­tion part­ners at Eglin Air Force Base in order to attain our annu­al pilot train­ing requirement.” 

War­lords, like Air Force and future Navy fly­ing squadrons, will be qual­i­fied to oper­ate on their service’s vari­ant of the F‑35 via the cer­ti­fi­ca­tions received at the 33rd FW’s Aca­d­e­m­ic Train­ing Cen­ter. Each mil­i­tary branch has a sep­a­rate train­ing chain of com­mand at the “school­house,” but mem­bers are col­lo­cat­ed to pro­vide DoD the best envi­ron­ment for future joint operations. 

Like their fly­ing squadron coun­ter­parts in the 33rd FW, War­lords will hon­or their unit’s his­to­ry. The Marine fight­ing fleet time­line began in the 1950’s with FJ‑3 Fury, con­tin­ued with the F‑4 Phan­tom and a decade of fly­ing F/A‑18 Hor­nets until 1997. They reac­ti­vat­ed and redes­ig­nat­ed to VMFAT-501 in April 2010 keep­ing their squadron mot­to, “VINI-VICI”, inter­pret­ed to read, “I came, I conquered.” 

The Marine squadron at Eglin is sched­uled to receive five more F‑35Bs this year and con­tin­ue joint strike fight­er main­te­nance with their new variant. 

U.S. Air Force 

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