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New F-35B joint strike fighters arrive at Eglin

by Chrissy Cuttita
Eglin Air Force Base Public Affairs

1/12/2012 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A resolution to be even more expeditionary will be met this year, now that Marines here received their first two F-35B Lightning II variants of DoD's fifth generation fighter Jan. 11.

At the 33rd Fighter Wing, Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 is the home for the new aircraft where its "Warlords," pilots and maintainers, reside with a team of other professionals in preparation to deploy out anywhere in the world for the nation's defense.

"The wing gaining another variant of the F-35 marks a significant step in the stand up of the F-35 pilot and maintenance training here," said Col. Andrew Toth, the 33rd Fighter Wing commander. "The integration of the F-35B/C strike fighters will provide dominant, multi-role, fifth generation capabilities needed across the full spectrum of combat operations to deter potential adversaries."

Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann, the wing's first F-35 pilot ferried the first of his service's two joint strike fighter variants from Lockheed Martin headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. Two F-18 escorts from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing escorted the F-35 to represent the wing the Warlords' report to for flying operations.

"The Marine Corps has to be ready to fight across the spectrum of war; a force that is most ready when the nation is least ready. The F-35B gives us the capability to do just that," said Maj. Gen. Jon M. Davis, commanding general of 2nd MAW.

With the latest addition to the fleet, the 33rd FW has a total of eight joint strike fighters with Air Force variants arriving last summer. Three distinct variants of the F-35 will replace the A-10 and F-16 for the Air Force, the F/A-18 for the Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-B Harrier for the Marines and a variety of fighters for at least nine other countries.

"The STOVL capability of the F-35B will enable us to deploy with the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and ensure these fifth-generation capabilities are available when needed," said Lt. Col. James B. Wellons, commanding officer of VMFAT-501. "Our mission is to conduct F-35B operations in coordination with our joint and coalition partners at Eglin Air Force Base in order to attain our annual pilot training requirement."

Warlords, like Air Force and future Navy flying squadrons, will be qualified to operate on their service's variant of the F-35 via the certifications received at the 33rd FW's Academic Training Center. Each military branch has a separate training chain of command at the "schoolhouse," but members are collocated to provide DoD the best environment for future joint operations.

Like their flying squadron counterparts in the 33rd FW, Warlords will honor their unit's history. The Marine fighting fleet timeline began in the 1950's with FJ-3 Fury, continued with the F-4 Phantom and a decade of flying F/A-18 Hornets until 1997. They reactivated and redesignated to VMFAT-501 in April 2010 keeping their squadron motto, "VINI-VICI", interpreted to read, "I came, I conquered."

The Marine squadron at Eglin is scheduled to receive five more F-35Bs this year and continue joint strike fighter maintenance with their new variant.

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