By Chrissy Cuttita
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 hosted the Marine Corps' official F-35B Lightning II rollout ceremony, Feb. 24, here.
"These Marines are part of the cutting edge of Marine Aviation," said Gen. Joseph Dunford, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and presiding officer for the service's historic event. "The ability to combine supersonic flight and radar-evading stealth with the short take off and vertical landing capability needed aboard an amphibious warship is among the greatest innovations the aviation community, much less Marine aviation has ever known. Combined with the Navy's F-35C carrier variant of the aircraft, it gives the nation double the number of capital ships capable of operating a 5th generation, multi-role fighter."
All three variants of the joint strike fighter will be based at the 33rd Fighter Wing where each service will train maintainers and pilots at the F-35 Academic Training Center and fly aircraft from operational squadrons. A total of 59 aircraft will be stationed at Eglin in the future. Currently, the wing has six F-35As and three F-35Bs.
District 1 Congressman Jeff Miller called the F-35 the "workhorse of joint and allied forces for decades to come" during his speech commending the synergy of Eglin's units at the historic ceremony. Echoing the advancement in technology during the last century, Robert Stevens, chairman and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin, said industry partners pledge to be just as faithful to the mission as their military counterparts are to the mission.
"VMFAT-501 is on the forefront of one of the most significant transition periods Marine aviation has ever known, certainly one of the most important in a long time, maybe since the introduction of the helicopter," said Dunford.
"Exciting" was the one word the squadron's commander repeated.
"We understand how critical the jet is, a significant asset for our country," said Marine Lt. Col. David Berke. "It's a significant jump in technology and change in how we operate. We are breaking new ground, training and learning as much as we can."
Since October 2009, each service's best in their aviation community have worked alongside contracted logistic support to provide a quality training environment for U.S. and allied forces' pilots and maintainers at their collocated facilities in the 33rd FW.
Distinguished visitors, civic leaders and Eglin military family attending the historic ceremony were left with a sense of how important the F-35 program is to the nation's defense. They also had an opportunity to see the jet for themselves.