Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 watched in amazement and satisfaction as the Corps’ first operational F-35B Lightning II squadron conducted its first Short Take Off-Vertical Landing operations aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., on Thursday.
Maj. Richard Rusnok, an F-35B Lightning II test pilot, conducted VMFA-121’s first short landing and takeoff as well as the Corps’ first F-35B hover and vertical landing outside of a testing environment in BF-19.
VMFA-121 is the first F-35B squadron to join Marine Aircraft Group 13, composed of four AV-8B Harrier squadrons, a Marine wing support squadron and a Marine aviation logistics squadron.
Rusnok was accompanied by VMFA-121′s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Scott, flying a second F-35B as a chase aircraft.
“The first STOVL flight for an F-35B outside of the test environment was another milestone achieved by the Marine Corps and the Green Knights today here at MCAS Yuma,” Scott said. “The F-35 program and specifically the F-35B have made significant progress to make this possible.”
As the squadron expands its operations and end strength, they will continue revolutionizing expeditionary Marine air-ground combat power in all threat environments through the use of MCAS Yuma training ranges in Arizona and California. VMFA-121 will be home to about 300 Marines and is expected to receive additional F-35s throughout the next 8 to 12 months, with a total of 16 aircraft scheduled to arrive by late 2013.
Differently from previous fixed wing capabilities across the Department of Defense, the integration of U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Marine and coalition F-35 Lightning II aircraft on a common platform will provide the dominant, multi-role, fifth-generation capabilities needed across the full spectrum of combat operations to deter potential adversaries and enable future aviation power projection.
Specific to the Corps, consolidating three aircraft — the AV-8B Harrier and the F/A-18 Hornet, both built by McDonnell Douglas, as well as the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler — into one is central to maintaining tactical aviation affordability and serving as good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
VMFA-121 will continue to set the pace for the F-35 program based on a common platform. The U.S. Air Force and Navy can now integrate best practices from VMFA-121 in preparation for the future operational basing of the F-35A and F-35C.
By Capt. Staci Reidinger, Headquarters Marine Corps
Photo by Cpl. Ken Kalemkarian