MCAS Beaufort's first F-35B arrives + video, photos

newsroom@beaufortgazette.comJuly 17, 2014 

Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's F-35B training squadron got its first Joint Strike Fighter on Thursday.

VMFAT-501 commanding officer Lt. Col. Joseph Bachmann landed a F-35B Lightning II, the first to be stationed at the base, at about 1 p.m., according to air station public-affairs officer Capt. Jordan Cochran.

Bachmann flew the jet from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where VMFAT-501 currently trains. The flight took about 30 minutes.

Training in Beaufort is expected to begin in October, and the training squadron is expected to have 15 F-35Bs on premises by next July. Squadron members have been arriving in Beaufort, and welcoming ceremonies were held July 11 at the air station and in Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

Beaufort Military Enhancement Committee chairman Jim Wegmann said Thursday the jet's arrival was another step in the process that started with the presentation of the 300-member squadron's flag July 11 to mark its arrival on base.

"It's a long-awaited process that is coming to fruition," he said. "And now it's going to continue over the next couple months as the personnel and their families show up. We're excited about it and excited to welcome the personnel and their families to Beaufort."

The jet was delivered two days after the Pentagon lifted a grounding order on all Joint Strike Fighters, allowing the F-35B to be flown to Beaufort. All of manufacturer Lockheed Martin's fighter jets were grounded when an engine on the Air Force's version of the jet, the F-35A, caught fire during takeoff at Eglin on June 23.

The fire was caused by "excessive rubbing" of a turbine blade in the jet's engine, according to Pentagon officials. Inspections of the other 100 jets did not uncover the same damage, but new inspection orders have prevented the F-35B from making its international debut at the Farnborough International Airshow in England this week. Because the fan blades on the planes need to be inspected every three hours, the jet would be unable to make the flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

The Marine Corps' version of the F-35 can perform vertical landings and short take-offs. Over time, the fighter jets will replace the F/A-18 Hornets currently flown at the air station. Two attack squadrons and one other training squadron will eventually call the air station home alongside VMFAT-501.

The New York Times and Beaufort Gazette staff writer Laura Oberle contributed to this report. Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.

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