Soon, military and community leaders will get a chance to see what all the fuss -- and all the construction at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort -- has been about.
The new Joint Strike Fighter will be displayed at the base during an inivition-only event Tuesday. Among the invited guests are area officials and the media. Brig. Gen. Robert Hedelund, the commanding officer for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing is among those scheduled to attend the event, MCAS Beaufort public affairs Sgt. Marcy Sanchez said Tuesday.
Two F-35B Lightning II fighters will be on display during the showcase, flown up from Eglin Air Force Base on Florida's panhandle, Capt. Jordan Cochran said. The event will also include a tour of some of the new facilities on the base, Cochran added.
Beaufort City Councilwoman Donnie Beer said she was excited to attend next week's event.
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"This is a really good sign that these planes are still alive and are on schedule," she said. "We were concerned here about what effect the sequestration would have, but the event is another step in the right direction." MCAS Beaufort will eventually be home to three combat squadrons and two training squadrons of the next-generation jets, which will replace the F-18 Hornets currently flown at the air station.
The air station is expected to get its first group of the fifth-generation fighters in January 2014, when its first training squadron will arrive, according to an Aug. 9 news release. Cochran said the date the air station is expected to be ready for training is Jan. 1.
The release said the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, also located at Eglin Air Force Base, will relocate to MCAS Beaufort as part of the air station's new role.
The announcement of next week's showcase comes a few weeks after the completion of the Pilot Training Center at the air station. Cochran said the building's official completion date was July 15, although some "punch list items" are still being completed.
The center and its hangar, constructed on a budget of $70 million, will house eight F-35B simulators, classrooms and an auditorium for large classes.
Cochran said the center will be able to train 78 new pilots a year once it is operating at full capacity. The center will also be home to a new Marine Aviation Training Support Squadron once the new fighters are delivered.
Cochran said a hangar for the fighters is expected to be completed by Sept. 20, while landing pads, for the fighter's vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, are expected to be finished later in the fall.
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.