Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is inching closer to starting regular flights of the F-35B Lightning II and hopes to begin training there in November, according to an air station official.
The air station crossed off another milestone last week in its preparations to start F-35B training later this fall -- the first F-35B flight in which maintenance and support were done entirely by Marines with VMFAT-501 was conducted Thursday, aircraft maintenance officer Maj. Mike Rountree said.
Support for all previous flights at MCAS Beaufort was performed jointly by Marines and contractors with Lockheed Martin, the F-35B's manufacturer. However, training for Marine-only maintenance is needed to prepare support squadrons for maintenance operations during deployments, when contractors won't be available for support, Rountree said.
The Marine-only support flight is the latest step in the air station's run-up to regular F-35B flights, a process that started with the arrival of VMFAT-501 in July from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. A week after the squadron's welcoming, the first F-35B arrived. Two weeks after that, the jet's first vertical landing at the base was performed.
The air station hopes to be ready to support flight training by November for a class of pilots switching to the F-35B, Rountree said. Currently, two of the jets have been delivered to MCAS Beaufort, and two more are expected to arrive by Sept. 30, he said.
Training is expected to rev up as the rest of VMFAT-501 makes its way to Beaufort. By next July, 15 F-35Bs are expected to be stationed at MCAS Beaufort.
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