11/16/12 by James Gilbert, Yuma Sun
In what was history in the making, the first F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, landed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma on Friday afternoon.
Marine pilot Maj. Aric Liberman arrived at the air station at approximately 1 p.m., having flown in from Lockheed Martin’s production plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
“The delivery of VMFA-121’s first F-35B is a tremendous milestone for our country, the Marine Corps, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Air Wing, the hard-working Marines of VMFA-121 and the city of Yuma. This marks the transition to the next generation of aircraft for the U.S. military and our Marine Corps.,” said VMFA-121 commanding officer Lt. Col. Jeffrey Scott.
The F-35B is the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter designed for use by U.S. Marine Corps as well as the international partners of the United Kingdom and Italy. The fighter jet is capable of short take-offs and vertical landings, and is able to be used on amphibious ships, ski-jump aircraft carriers and expeditionary airfields.
The F-35B is slated to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.
An additional F-35 is expected to arrive each month until a full squadron is stationed at the base. The squadron expects to have an entire squadron of planes by late spring or early summer. The total transition from old aircraft to new aircraft and personnel for the F-35 squadrons is scheduled for 2020.
As the home of the first F-35 fighters in the nation, MCAS Yuma will get five squadrons each with 16 aircraft, and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft. These 88 aircraft will replace Yuma’s four existing squadrons of 56 AV-8B Harriers.
“Being the first operational F-35 squadron in the world is another historic moment in Marine aviation, and the Green Knights are proud to be chosen to lead the way into the future of military aviation,” Scott said. “I have no doubt the legendary Green Knight Joe Foss is smiling down on VMFA-121 and the Marine Corps.”
The next squadron to receive its new planes will be VMA-211, which lost six of its Harrier jets during an insurgent attack in September in Afghanistan.
MCAS Yuma has been a very busy place the past two years as it has prepared for the arrival of the new aircraft, pilots and crews. About $400 million has been invested in the construction of infrastructure so far.
In total, as much as $500 million could be allotted to the air station by 2015, including $100 million in 2013. Some future projects over the next three years include a Security Operations building and new Combat Aircraft Loading apron.
Among the already completed and near-completed projects are two new hangars, which cost about $38 million each. While specifically been designed for the F-35B, the hangars reportedly can be used to maintain other aircraft if needed.
The first JSF hangar was occupied on Aug. 20 by VMFA-121. Until recently the squadron had been based at MCAS Miramar in California and flew the F/A-18D.
The third and fourth hangars are in design, with construction expected to be completed in May 2014. The fifth JSF hangar has not been awarded yet, but the base expects to demolish two of the older fixed-wing hangars and replace them with the fifth F-35 hangar within the next five years.
Also as part of the build-up, construction on an Intermediate Maintenance Activity building and a F-35 Simulator Facility were recently completed.
Construction is also under way on a new Field-Carrier Landing Practice training facility on the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The project is expected to be completed by July 2013.
Since MCAS Yuma is the home of the first fully operational F-35 squadrons, many units from all branches of the military that will transition to the new aircraft are expected to spend time training here.
See our story filed from Yuma earlier in the week.