According to Lockheed Martin spokesman Mike Rein, the company will
resume delivering F-35Bs, the short-takeoff-and vertical-landing variant of the
Lightning II, to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma sometime within the next month.
"It's definitely looking that way," Rein said.
Rein said in a telephone interview Monday from the company's plant in Fort Worth, Texas, that the next fighter jet scheduled to be delivered has passed its checkout flights and final inspections and is ready to go.
MCAS Yuma is home to VMFA-121, the world's first operational F-35 squadron, and currently has four F-35s. The squadron, once fully staffed, will consist of approximately 300 Marines and approximately 16 aircraft.
Rein said that the company is scheduled to deliver 36 planes this year, with a dozen slated to go to MCAS Yuma. He said he anticipates that the air station will receive one F-35 a month for the remainder of the year.
He explained that the company has experienced a slight delay in delivering the fighter jets due to two precautionary flight suspensions in January and February that lasted for about five weeks, one strictly for the B variant, and one that included all variants.
The delays, Rein said, prevented the company from conducting the checkout flights and final inspections the aircraft required before they could be delivered.
"It just took us a while to get all those flights and inspections done," Rein said. "All that is behind us now."
The F-35B variant was initially grounded after a Jan. 16 test flight at Eglin Air Force Base, in Florida, was aborted due to a problem later identified as a fueldraulic system failure. The grounding lasted nearly a month and was caused by an improperly crimped fueldraulic line. After an investigation by the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, six non-compliant lines were discovered.
Then in February, just nine days after the Pentagon cleared the F-35B to resume test flights and one day after the first local flight here in Yuma, the Lightning II was grounded once again, this time by a cracked engine blade.
According to an Inside the Navy interview on April 12, Staff Sgt. Jason Runion, an F-35B maintainer, said as part of the first F-35B operational squadron, Marines at MCAS Yuma are performing 100 percent of the maintenance on the aircraft.
"When it comes to actual maintenance there's not much difference from the legacy to this [platform]," Runion stated. "The biggest difference in the maintenance is the updated publications that we use, a new style of publication, and the maintenance management tools that we use to record everything."
Runion attended training at Eglin Air Force Base for about two months. At Yuma, Marines in the maintenance department are exposed to the aircraft before going to school.
"I think they'll benefit greatly getting the hands-on experience prior to going to school," he said. "I think it will give them an edge once they're going through the curriculum because they would've already physically seen it or actually worked on it."
The F-35B will be ready for initial operations as soon as July 2015, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said April 16 during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
"If something happens around the world" before fiscal year 2017, Amos said, "this will be the only fifth-generation aircraft America has that is ready to go in an operational squadron."
The exact date for the initial operating capability will be refined as the service gets closer to 2015, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh wrote in an April 17 email.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.
(c)2013 The Sun (Yuma, Ariz.)
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