Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program recorded another milestone in the development of the next generation combat aircraft Wednesday with the delivery of the first two production F-35B models, the short-takeoff and vertical-landing variant being developed for the Marine Corps and perhaps some foreign buyers.
The two aircraft, BF-6 (pictured) and BF-8, are assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing's Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 501 at Eglin AFB, Fla and will be used for training the first Marine pilots.
The two aircraft were flown to Eglin from Fort Worth a little more than an hour apart. Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann touched down at Eglin in BF-6 at 3:13 p.m. Central time after a 90-minute ferry flight. At 4:39 p.m. BF-8, piloted by Marine Lt. Col. Matt Taylor arrived.
A total of eight F-35 aircraft are now stationed at Eglin. New pilot training has been placed on hold by the Pentagon and the Air Force, which is overseeing training, until certain safety concerns have been addressed.
Update and comments from the Marine Corps:
"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," Maj. Gen. Jon M. Davis, commanding general of 2d MAW, said in a release.
The F-35B ... 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.
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.
"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."
Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin