The new jets are the aircraft carrier version of the trillion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter project. The Marines are already deploying with the F-35B, which is a vertical takeoff version used on the Navy’s amphibious assault ships.
The new jets are assigned to the “Black Knights” of Fighter Attack Squadron 314, which has been training in the new planes at Naval Air Station Lemore since the ceremonial final flight of an F/A-18 Hornet in June.
“This transition process really began at the sundown ceremony,” said Lt. Col. Cedar Hinton, commanding officer of VMFA-314. “Since then, we’ve been moving toward becoming a fully-operational F-35C squadron. Starting at the end of September, we began preparing for safe-for-flight operations certification.”
The safe-for-flight operations certification is the final milestone for the squadron’s transition to the Lightning II.
The F-35C version has a top speed of 1,200 mph, combat radius of 600 nautical miles, and can carry two air-to-air missiles and two 2,000-pound bombs in an internal bay to ensure a stealthy radar image.
The F-35B and F-35C will replace the Marines’ aging Hornets, AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers. The service is procuring a total of 420 of the two versions.