Crawl, walk, fly -- that's the game plan for the Marines' F-35B Lightning IIs training down at Eglin AFB, Fla.
The jet made its first flight as a Marine Corps training asset on Tuesday, Lockheed Martin announced, and unlike the first flight of the Air Force's A-model, this hop apparently went smoothly. Even though the Marines plan to fly their EA-6B Prowlers, F/A-18 Hornets and A/V-8B Harriers until their wings fall off, the B remains the future of Marine Corps aviation, so the crews down in Florida took their time getting ready for Tuesday's flight.
Here was the official word from Eglin, per Lockheed:
Maintainers have been preparing for today's launch with engine runs and taxi operations for approximately eight months since F-35 aircraft began arriving here last summer. Utilizing virtual trainers, developing pilot curriculum and hosting small group tryouts has been the focus for personnel readying themselves for flight operations to come.Tuesday's B did not attempt the central feat for which it was designed and for which DoD has put up with so much cost and developmental heartache: Take off in the length of an amphibious ship's flight deck and then come back to land vertically. Lockheed, the Marines and Naval Air Systems Command are confident the Bs and their crews are able to do that, but for now they are sticking with slow-and-steady-wins-the-race:
"It's amazing to believe 100 years ago Marine Corps aviation started and here today we launched a fifth generation aircraft," said Marine Sergeant Eric Spence, VMFAT-501 plane captain for the first F-35B sortie. "It's history in the making. Every time one of those engines fires up I get pumped up and today it was a little extra." The power plant mechanic said he prepared for the last six months by being involved in any F-35 maintenance training he could at the 33rd FW.
The goal for Marines was to start local area operations and conventional flights, beginning the process of gradually expanding the envelope to short takeoffs and vertical landings (STOVL) and more complex aerial training.As we heard from Lockheed almost a year ago, it considers the B's ability to choose its takeoffs and landings as one of its selling points: Not necessarily having to engage all that airframe origami behind the pilot every time you take off and land saves wear, tear and fuel. (Theoretically.) We're a long way from seeing how these options actually affect the lives of the aircraft, but at any rate, they're there.