June 26--Temporary grounding of all F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets following a Monday fire on takeoff of the F-35A Air Force version is not expected to adversely affect Marine Corps squadrons of the country's next fighter aircraft.
Cherry Point Marine air station, home to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, is expecting the first of six F-35B squadrons, the Marine JSF variant, in 2022. Fleet Readiness Center at Cherry Point air station began working on the F-35 a year ago as the first Naval Aviation Depot to do modifications on the F-35.
"We have no reason to believe this incident will impact any aircraft scheduled to arrive at MCAS Cherry Point," said Michael Barton, deputy public information director at Cherry Point.
He said he was advised by the F-35 Joint Program Office that, "In fact, the F-35 program has exceeded flight test plans for the past three years."
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Harry Blot of New Bern was for six years a Lockheed-Martin vice president and the F-35 project deputy director.
He said Wednesday, "I can really only speculate on any impact" on the Marine Corps version's arrival as a result of the grounding but "my guess is that there won't be any impact. It's too far out. The impact, if there is any, will be on the testing."
Barton said information provided to him following the grounding is that "The F-35B has flown supersonic, conducted carrier operations, flown at night, validated aerial refueling capabilities, executed weapons testing, conducted vertical landings aboard our bases and amphibious ships, and performed high angle of attack testing."
Blot said, "The fire occurred on takeoff and aborted the takeoff so they are now looking at the aircraft's propulsion system," Blot said of the incident in which the $98 million aircraft was landed safely with no injury to the pilot.
"The propulsion for the F-35 is provided by the government and arrives as a kit at Lockheed," he said. "Since the aircraft is still in testing, they are going to err."
"A bigger potential impact on Cherry Point is sequestration, which could affect the budget which has direct effect on production rate," Blot said. "Production rate directly affects how quickly you fill up squadrons."
Barton said, "Currently, the Marine Corps plans for the F-35B to go to initial operational capability in the summer of 2015 and have F-35Bs aboard amphibious ships in 2017 providing a strike capability to our nation and international partners that is significantly better than what we see today."
There are now 11 combat flying squadrons at Cherry Point under 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, including one helicopter squadron there temporarily, and one flying squadron which flies under the air station's Marine Transport Squadron 1. Some of the squadrons fly well maintained but aging aircraft including AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers.
Sue Book can be reached at 252-635-5665.
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