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SAN DIEGO – Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy's first F-35C Lightning II carrier variant aircraft squadron, completed its first flight in its new aircraft at the squadron's home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. August 14.
The 1.3-hour flight was made by VFA-101 aviator Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Tabert.
The flight followed an Aug. 8 decision by Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific, Navy Vice Adm. David Buss, granting the Fleet Replacement Squadron interim "safe for flight" status.
"The Lightning II strike fighter represents the future business end of our nuclear powered aircraft carrier force, the embarked carrier air wing," Buss said. "The men and women of VFA-101 are now cleared to take the first steps toward that future as they operate these amazing Navy aircraft and train the aviators who will fly them."
"VFA-101's achievement of the Interim Safe for Flight criteria constitutes a significant milestone in the introduction of the F-35C Lightning II into the fleet," said Navy Capt. Mark Black, commander, Strike Fighter Wing, Pacific. "VFA-101 will now begin to schedule and perform sorties under their own charter from their facilities at Eglin AFB. This will permit the re-established Grim Reapers to begin training for the original flight instructor cadre that will teach future F-35C pilots in the intricacies of mastering the Navy's first 5th-generation fighter."
The squadron received the Navy's first F-35C from contractor Lockheed Martin on June 22. The Aug. 14 flight was the first in the new Navy aircraft flown by a VFA-101 pilot at Eglin.
"The first flight of Grim Reaper 102 today is the acme of many years hard work and planning by the sailors of VFA-101 and our Lockheed Martin partners and is an exciting first step in introducing the Navy's first 5th-generation fighter to fleet," said VFA-101 Commanding Officer Navy Capt. John Enfield. "Now that we're flying, we will be able to validate and evaluate both the pilot and maintainer syllabi as we train the initial cadre of instructors."
VFA 101 is the F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron, training Navy aircrew and maintenance personnel to fly and repair the F-35C, a 5th-generation fighter that combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.
"The Interim Safe for Flight will begin in earnest the training of the U.S. Navy personnel in how to maintain this impressive new aircraft," Black said. "Proficient Lockheed Martin technicians will lead sailors in verifying prescribed maintenance procedures that will ultimately be converted into a robust syllabus that will permit future Navy maintenance personnel to develop the skills necessary to ensure and sustain the flight integrity of the aircraft. Designating VFA-101 as Interim Safe for Flight signifies that the Navy F-35C has begun its service in naval aviation for real."
The F-35C will enhance the flexibility, power projection, and strike capabilities of carrier air wings and joint task forces and will complement the capabilities of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which currently serves as the Navy's premier strike fighter.
By 2025, the Navy's aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of the F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler, E-2D Hawkeye, Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike air vehicles, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft.