“We are on the front side of something big!”


2012-09-06 By Robbin Laird

Major Mike “Gravy” Roundtree, flew the 199th sortie of the F-35 on August 24, 2012.  Just after his flight, I had a chance to talk with him about that flight and his assessment of the F-35 and its role for the USMC.

Question: You are a Harrier pilot?

Rountree: I am.  Many folks do not fully understand that the F-35B is not a Harrier replacement.  The Harrier began its life as a light attack aircraft with the F-18 as a medium-attack aircraft.

F-35B in its hanger at Eglin AFB. As the sorties increase, the learning curve accelerates. Credit: SLD

The F-35B takes the Harrier’s vertical lift capability along with the Hornet’s mission systems and payload capability and then throws in the fifth generation capability with new sensors and systems.  This makes the F-35B infinitely better.

The F-35B will be the most operationally flexible of the three variants as well.

Question: And the learning process in flying and then using the F-35B could parallel the USMC experience with the Osprey?

Rountree:  That is a good point.  The F-35B and V-22 are both transformative aircraft. 

Similar to the V-22’s introduction, we know we are the front side of something big. 

The capability of the aircraft, pilots and maintainers are improving rapidly.  We watch the sorties increase very week.   We watch maintenance capability increase every week.  We watch the health and capability of the jets increase every week.

We are not necessarily doing the most high-speed sorties in the word, but we’re flying, we’re getting experience and we are starting to move forward.

It is similar to the V-22’s introduction in that the USMC grew into understanding the V-22.  It is now growing into understanding the F-35B.

Folks discussed the V-22 as a one-for-one replacement for the CH-46.  It wasn’t.  It has an expanded and different set of capabilities.

As we noted earlier, people have discussed the same thing with the F-35B.

It too is a whole new animal. 

The result is a modernized, more operationally flexible aviation force for the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) commander.  The impact of the new USMC aviation assets for the MEU of the future will be significant.  We will have more synergy across the force and greater capability over all.

And see our regular update on the F-35, which can be found here