Showcase for new F-35B opportunity for updates

info@islandpacket.comAugust 16, 2013 

Mideast Israel F 35

File - In this March 1, 2013 file photo, an F-35 B Lightning II from VMFA 121 roars off the runway at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. Israel Aerospace Industries says it has signed a long-term contract with U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin to produce wings for the F-35 next-generation fighter jet. (AP Photo/Yuma Sun, Craig Fry, File)


An invitation-only gathering scheduled for next week at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is a significant event.

Two F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters will be displayed, along with new facilities to accommodate the jet's expected roar into military aviation history.

The Beaufort air station was selected to play a major role -- especially in training -- for a fifth generation of fighter jets, set to replace all of the F-18 Hornets.

In Beaufort, five new hangars will replace hangars built in the 1950s. Five new landing pads are in the works. A $70 million pilot training center, with eight F-35B flight simulators, classrooms and auditorium, was recently finished.

The air station known as "Fightertown" is being prepared to become home to three combat squadrons and two training squadrons for the stealth fighter that features short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities.

Jets like the two that are to visit Tuesday are expected to start arriving in force in January 2014.

Local leaders fought hard for the air station's prominent role for the new fighters. They look at it in patriotic and economic terms, saying the air station now has a direct annual economic impact of $296 million. It is hoped that the new role for the air station bodes well for its survival in future base realignment and closure processes.

But the F-35 -- and particularly the more complex F-35B version -- has been plagued by delays, increasing costs and design problems. In fact, the F-35B was put on probation by the secretary of defense in 2010, but that probation was subsequently lifted due to progress made.

Next week's showcase at the air station is a sign that there is stability in plans for the new fighter jet that could heavily influence the future of Beaufort County.

But more is needed from the invited guests than oohs and ahhs.

Tuesday's event should be used to mine for new details on exactly where the Marine Corps stands in taking delivery of the 340 F-35Bs it wants. What has been learned about its noise levels since the prospect of the air station's new role was announced? When will the squadrons arrive? What can the community as a whole expect come January and throughout 2014? What has sequestration meant to the program, if anything?

Military aviation has been part of life in Beaufort County for most of the past 70 years. But the F-35B will take that to a whole new level.

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