F-35C at Miramar
A Marine pilot describes the cordoned-off F-35C to a local government representative. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The Marine Corps invited San Diego political and community leaders to Miramar on Friday to show off the first new F-35C Lighting II strike fighters to be based in Southern California.

“When we see our F-35s flying overhead, they will be a constant reminder that San Diego is a proud military town,” said Rep. Scott Peters, a former member of the influential House Armed Services Committee.

One of the two fifth-generation warplanes now at Miramar was parked on the flight line, cordoned off with a fence because of its top-secret stealth construction and advanced electronics. A total of 10 to 20 are expected by year end, with 75 by the end of 2022.

“This day’s been a long time coming,” said Col. Charles Dockery, commanding officer at Miramar. “These represent another generational leap.”

The “C” version of the trillion-dollar joint strike fighter program is designed for carrier operations, with larger wings, bigger fuel tanks and arresting gear. The planes have a top speed of 1,200 mph and a combat radius of 600 nautical miles. They will replace the venerable F-18 Hornet, which first flew in the early 1980s.

“I love the Hornet, but this easier to fly,” said Maj. Robert Ahern, who added that carrier landings with the new plane are “super stable, easy to do.”

Changes at Miramar to accommodate the new planes include construction of a giant hanger on the east side to support two full squadrons of the advanced aircraft.

There will also be changes in the base’s noise profile, since the new craft are slightly louder on takeoff, but quieter on landing than the Hornets. Dockery said the overall noise level won’t change significantly, but nearby residents will notice different sounds.

“The net of it is not much. It’s not as noisy as we anticipated. But people will notice it,” said Dockery.

He called on those in attendance Friday to help make sure that nearby development remains compatible with Miramar’s long-term national defense mission.

Major Gen. Kevin M. Iiams, commander of the 3rd Marine Air Wing, described the new planes as the “world’s most advanced fighters” and part of a major transformation of the Marine Corps fleet. Another version of the new plane, the F-35B, is replacing the AV-8B Harrier II for short-takeoff and vertical-landing operations from the Navy’s amphibious assault ships.

“Today we take a revolutionary leap forward,” said Iams. “This past week those legacy platforms fade into the past.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.