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First Marine pilots Joint Strike Fighter

By Sgt. Michael S. Cifuentes | | March 20, 2009

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The first Marine Joint Strike Fighter developmental test pilot took off from the flight line at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics plant here March 19.  

Maj. Joseph "O. D." Bachmann became the first Marine to pilot the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet, which is slated to become part of the Corps’ aviation arsenal by 2012.

Bachmann said the purpose of the flight was to acquire experience and become comfortable with the aircraft so he can to find any potential flaws or issues that may need correction, especially in the short take-off and vertical landing version of the aircraft.

"Mission: accomplished," said Bachmann after his first F-35 flight. "It was amazingly easy to fly. It was surreal. It was badass."

The F-35 is a single-engine, single-passenger, multi-role, stealth-capable, fifth generation supersonic strike fighter aircraft that was developed by Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter Program. Lockheed Martin is producing three variants of the aircraft.

Bachmann took off with the F-35A, the conventional take-off and landing variant. However, the Marine Corps is slated to field the F-35B, which is the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the fighter jet. Thus, the aircraft will become the Corps' primary aircraft fighter and will replace the Navy and Marine Corps' F/A-18 Hornet and the Corps' AV-8B Harrier II. It will also replace the Navy and Marine's EA-6B Prowler, an electronic warfare aircraft.

The F-35A variant is also slated to replace the Air Force's F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbold II. The F-35C, the carrier variant, will go to the Navy.

Bachmann said the F-35 can do everything these three Marine Corps legacy fighter jets can do, "but better and cheaper."

One of the F-35's best of many capabilities is stealth, he added. This will be the first time the Corps will have a stealth aircraft, which according to Marine officials, will make the Marines adapt to new warfighting tactics.

The F-35B is the world's first supersonic and radar-evading stealth aircraft with short take-off and vertical landing capabilities. The aircraft can operate from a variety of ships, roads and austere bases.

"When the F-35 gets fielded, the rest of the world can't turn a blind eye to our force being stealth," said Bachmann, a native of Topeka, Kansas.  "[The enemy] won't ever know we're coming.  It's awesome."

Operation support cost is also reduced with the F-35.  According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35B will provide unequaled multi-mission capability with a fraction of the support required by other fighter jets.

"This aircraft and its game-changing capabilities are going to offer Marine and joint force commanders on the front lines the most affordable and technologically-advanced fifth-generation aircraft in the world," said Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. George Trautman.

Bachmann said the F-35 is going to be easier to fly and easier to fix.

"It is more user-friendly to fix. So, the lance corporal whose job it is to fix the airplane will spend less time doing that," Bachmann added.

Bachmann and his fellow Marine and civilian test pilots will continue to fly, taxi and use the simulator version of the aircraft until they feel the aircraft is "perfect" and ready to be fielded.  They are currently working side-by-side with the Lockheed Martin engineers to make the necessary adjustments as production continues.

"I better work really hard right now to make sure all things are done right so when it [goes out], it is perfect," Bachmann said. "Anything but perfect is failure. It needs to be perfect."

Doug Pearson, vice president of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Test Force, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, said fielding the new aircraft is a great way to take American industry and come out with equipment the warfighter needs. 

The three F-35 variants were derived from a common design developed together. Using the same sustainment infrastructure worldwide, the F-35 will replace at least 13 types of aircraft for 11 nations initially, making the aircraft the most cost-effective fighter program in history, according to a Lockheed Martin press release.

"It's just an amazing piece of machinery," Pearson said. "We are building an airplane that will last 8,000 flight hours.

"We're diligently working to keep our edge," continued Pearson. "God forbid we ever have a major conflict, but if we do, we need [this aircraft] and we need it to be swift."

Pearson continued to stress how the Marines operate all around the world in the ugliest situations and they need a "survival machine" to go into harm's way, survive and be effective. And that's what the F-35 is designed to do.

Bachmann sees the most important role of the aircraft is its benefit to the Marine walking point in a combat zone, when it's dark, scary and the enemy is near. There's a strike fighter that'll be in the air that's lethal, stealthy and it will kill the enemy before they know they're being watched, he illustrated.

"For the Marine that's out on the front all by himself, he's going to have a higher level of protection behind him," he said.

The whole point of the production of the aircraft was to protect the Marines on the ground - the grunts, said Staff Sgt. Ben Tchinski, an aviation ordinance technician and an F-35 basic maintainer with integrated test force out of Patuxent River, Md. Tchinski, a native of California, Pa., is one of the few Marines who are also learning side-by-side with engineers of the F-35 on how to properly fix and maintain the aircraft.

Tchinski also said the Marine Corps' new "Joint Strike Fighter" will "save more lives and kill more bad guys."

All who are part of the production and fielding of the aircraft agree, and the Marines are very welcoming to their new fighter jet.

"The Marine Corps opted to wait more than ten years for this multi-role aircraft rather than invest billions of dollars in legacy upgrades that offer only marginal incremental improvement in operational performance at high cost," Trautman said. "We didn't want something 'a little better.' We wanted an aircraft that will allow us to leverage technologies that have improved tremendously over the past few years. The F-35 is an aircraft that can perform a wide variety of missions across the full range of military operations far better than any other aircraft flying anywhere today."


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