By James Gilbert, Yuma Sun
A squadron that has been on the forefront of the most significant transition periods in the 100-year history of Marine Corps aviation did so again on Tuesday when it officially became the first operational squadron to fly the F-35B Lightning II.
“I ask you to buckle down your seat belts and snug your harness up nice and tight, because you are about to take a ride of a lifetime in a great airplane at an important point in America’s history,” said Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos during the event in Yuma.
“The squadron has been on the forefront of Marine aviation for some time,” Amos said, “and I know they are more than worthy of the challenge we now place in front of them.”
During a re-designation ceremony held Tuesday outside the squadron’s hangar at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, the Green Knights of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, formerly an F/A-18 Hornet squadron based at MCAS Miramar, was re-designated as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121.
Being on the forefront is nothing new to this squadron, which Amos said is one of the longest-serving squadrons in the country. It was formed in June 1941, a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Amos said that throughout its storied history the squadron has flown several different types of aircraft, before receiving the Marine Corps’ very first F-18 Hornet in 1989.
“The legacy of this squadron is long and distinguished, having deployed in support of every major combat operation this nation has ever been involved in since 1941,” Amos said. “The Marines of today are sitting at the cutting edge of aviation history of our great country.”
The F-35B Lightning II that arrived on Friday served as a backdrop for Tuesday’s event. Attendees included military leaders, and government officials, including Sen. John McCain and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Scott, the commanding officer of VMFA-121, and Sgt. Major Carlos Williams unfurled a new Marine Corps flag that officially redesignated the squadron.
Scott took command of the Green Knights from Lt. Col. Michael Waterman in September, marking the end of the F/A-18D Hornet days and ushering in the next generation of fighter jets.
As the home of the first operational squadron of JSF-35 fighters in the nation, MCAS Yuma will receive five squadrons each with 16 aircraft, and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft. These 88 aircraft will replace Yuma’s four existing squadrons of 56 AV-8B Harriers.
Amos also said that VMFA-121 is not only the first operational F-35B squadron in the Marines Corps, or in the country, but in the world. He explained that the squadron will be the first to bring a fifth-generation, multi-role, Stoval stealth fighter, with its unique capabilities, into an operational status.
“For the first time in aviation history, the most lethal fighter characteristics, supersonic speed, radar evading stealth, extreme agility, short takeoff capability and vertical landing, and an impressive array of 21st Century weapons has been combined in a single platform,” Amos said.
Amos said the F-35B is the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter that has been designed for use by U.S. Marine Corps. The jet is capable of short take-offs and vertical landings, and is able to be used on amphibious ships, ski-jump aircraft carriers and expeditionary airfields.
As the next chapter in the future of Marine aviation, Amos said the F-35B will replace the Marine Corps’ aging F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.
The next squadron to receive its new planes will be VMFA-211, which lost six of its Harrier jets during an insurgent attack in September in Afghanistan.
Amos also stated that MCAS Yuma will be primarily responsible for all the operational evaluation of the F-35B within the Marine Corps.
“MCAS Yuma will continue to be a very busy base,” Amos said.
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