The Tip Of The Spear For The Future Of Naval Aviation

(ALL HANDS MAGAZINE 19 NOV 13) … Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Johnson, Defense Media Activity

Just north of the white sandy beaches of the Emerald Coast of Florida’s panhandle, a group of Sailors are working hand-in-hand with technical expert civilians to bring the Navy’s fifth-generation fighter to the fleet.

It’s the home of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and JSF partner nations; known as F-35 country.

Co-located at Eglin Air Force Base, the skies over the Gulf Coast and Fort Walton area are often filled with a thundering scene of all three variants of the F-35 Lightning II. Though the JSF program’s three variants were designed with each service’s specific needs in mind, the Lightning II was built to be a first-day-of-the-war aircraft, bringing stealth capability in a highly agile, supersonic aircraft that gives the pilot a level of situational awareness never seen before.

The squadron given the responsibility to bring this aircraft to the fleet is VFA-101, the Grim Reapers. Re-activated in May 2012 as a U.S. Navy Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), the Grim Reapers have been given the opportunity to bring a new aircraft online.

“We’ve got big shoes to fill here … but VFA, or VF 101, is no stranger to bringing new airplanes to the fleet and doing it professionally, efficiently and effectively,” said Cmdr. Frederick E. Crecelius, VFA-101 commanding officer.

The squadron was first activated in June 1942 flying the F4F Wildcat, but has changed homeports, missions and aircraft numerous times. Since 1942, the Grim Reapers have flown more than 10 different aircraft and have been responsible for training a combination of aviators and maintainers on four different platforms.

Today, VFA-101 serves as an FRS, this time alongside Marine Strike Fighter Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) and the U.S. Air Force’s 58th Fighter Squadron (58FS) whose joint-service mission is to train pilots and maintainers to safely and effectively operate the F-35.

The F-35C Lightning II Navy Strike Fighter is expected to deliver the stealth, sensing and command and control capabilities for our future CVW to do two important missions: assure access and project power. The F-35C initial operational capability requires the Block 3F software/hardware package, which is expected to be delivered after 2017.

By 2025, the Navy’s aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of aircraft, with F-35Cs and F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as needed complements.

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