First Marine Corps F-35C hits the fleet in California

Philip Athey

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing has received the first Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II ― the carrier-focused variant of America’s most advanced fighter.

Since 2015 the Marine Corps has been operating the F-35B, the vertical take-off variant of the nation’s most advanced aircraft, and used it in combat for the first time in 2018, targeting ground forces in Afghanistan.

But on Tuesday, when Lt. Col. Cedar Hinton, the commander of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, flew the aircraft the roughly 300 miles from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, to his unit’s home squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, the Marine Corps finally received the variant specialized for operating on carriers.

The announcement comes just under a year after the Navy’s Argonauts of Strike Fighter Squadron 147 reached initial operating capability for the F-35C.

The February 2019 IOC declaration meant the unit had 10 F-35Cs in the squadron, with the requisite spare parts, support equipment, tools, technical publications as well as training and logistics programs to support them.

The new aircraft comes with more internal fuel storage than its F-35B counterpart, along with beefed up control surfaces and landing gear capable of taking the beating involved with catapult take-offs used on carriers.

In August 2019, 1st. Lt. Catherine Stark was announced as the first female selected to train and fly the F-35C. Stark began her nine to 12 month training program shortly after her Aug. 2, graduation from flight school.

VMFA has made other firsts

“It should be no surprise that VMFA-314 is once again leading the way into the next generation of fighter attack aircraft,” Hinton said in a Marine Corps press release.

In 1952 the unit, known as the Black Knights, was the first in 3rd MAW to transition to jet aircraft by flying the F9F Panther.

In 1961 the Black Knights became the first Marine squadron to receive the F-4B Phantom, and in 1982 it once again led the way as the first unit in the Department of the Navy to fly the F/A-18 Hornet.

“VMFA-314’s storied history should give the American people confidence that the ‘Black Knights’ will continue to fix, fly, and fight the next generation of aircraft,” the press release said.

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