The first Marine Corps F-35C carrier-variant Joint Strike Fighter squadron reached an important milestone, receiving a “safe for flight” operations certification that will allow them to train and operate independently of the Navy’s fleet replacement squadron.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 was certified on March 20, after working with Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 over the last five months to train the squadron’s pilots and maintainers to work with the new aircraft.
The “Black Knights” of VMFA-314 previously flew the F/A-18 Hornet out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California. The squadron had been training at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. – the home of the Navy’s fighter community – from September through January, when they moved back to Miramar but still under the supervision of the fleet replacement squadron.
Lt. Col. Cedar Hinton, commanding officer of VMFA-314, landed the first F-35C at Miramar on Jan. 21, marking the arrival of the fifth-generation jet to the Marine Corps’ operational force.
“The achievement of this certification represents years of hard work and detailed coordination across the entire USMC and Naval Aviation Enterprise,” Hinton said in a news release.
“The ‘Black Knights’ have met or exceeded every challenge faced during this transition and I am extremely proud to be a part of this fantastic squadron. Today’s achievement marks a significant milestone and the beginning of a new chapter in our storied legacy. The F-35C advances our capability well into the next generation of fighter-attack aircraft and will keep our squadron, and our service, relevant for decades to come.”
The safe for flight operations certification means that “the squadron is manned with qualified personnel to implement maintenance and safety programs in support of fleet operations,” reads the news release. It also requires that management information systems and supporting networks be installed and operated, and that the operators and maintainers prove their proficiency not only with the jet but with the weapons it can employ.
VMFA-314 is the second F-35C squadron to reach safe for flight, after the Navy’s “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 hit the milestone in December 2018. VFA-147 is expected to deploy with USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) next year, with VMFA-314 deploying on a still-unnamed carrier shortly afterwards.
The Marine Corps was the first of the services to reach initial operational capability with its F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant in 2015, was the first to deploy abroad and the first to use its jet in combat. As the Navy transitions both Navy and Marine Corps squadrons into the carrier variant jet, the Marines have somewhat of an advantage: with so many pilots and maintainers having gone through the training pipeline for the F-35B variant over the last five years, some of those personnel have been brought over to assist with VMFA-314’s transition to bring with them lessons learned about the aircraft and its capabilities.