One of the first things Marines are taught in boot camp is to adapt and overcome through hard and difficult times. For Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, Marine Aircraft Group 13 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, things could not be any more obvious.
The powerline mechanics of VMFA-121 are learning the nuances of the new F-35B Lightning II in comparison to other Marine Corps legacy aircraft. Made up of hand-selected Marines with a broad range of garrison and tactical aircraft powerline experiences, working with the F-35B provides these them a chance to get a first-hand look at the world’s first multi-role, short take-off, vertical landing stealth aircraft.
“Basically, what the Marines in this squadron do as plane captains is they handle the aircraft from start to finish,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Lemaster, a VMFA-121 power lines Staff Non Commissioned Officer and a native of St. Cloud, Fla. “We really have to go into the whole mission with an open mind and expect the unexpected.”
For most of the Marines in VMFA-121, their prior powerline experiences come from working with AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18 Hornets.
“Just learning a completely new type of engine is hard, there are not really any similarities between the Harriers and the F-35,” said Sgt. Jacob Gilbert, a powerline mechanic and a native of Safford, Ariz. “It’s mostly challenging because this aircraft is brand new and this jet has a lot of electronic parts. We still have a lot to learn about this aircraft.”
Establishing the groundwork of the first operational Joint Strike Fighter squadron has been and will continue to be a work in progress over the coming years as VMFA-121 moves towards full operational capacity. The ingenuity needed to succeed starts with Marines at every level being extremely focused in their jobs and being inquisitive about the functionality of the aircraft.
“Right now the F-35 is a completely new kind of aircraft and presents new types of challenges for us,” said Lemaster. “There are extra steps we have to take when dealing with the F-35B compared to the Hornet. With all the new technology that this amazing aircraft brings, attention to detail is very important. ”
Even with all of the frustration and struggle that has come with trying to learn the new technology of the F-35B, there is still a sense of pride and excitement that has not left the squadron since the arrival of the first aircraft in Nov. 2012.
“I’m very excited to be a part of something new,” said Lemaster. “We can set the bar here at this unit that will be continued on and what we set here sets the precedence for the rest of the United States Marine Corps.”
The Marines in VMFA-121 are hungry to learn how to support the F-35B because they know that they are the pioneers for the Marine Corps in creating the first ever operational F-35B Lightning II squadron. What they accomplish here will set the standards for decades to come in Marine Corps and Department of Defense aviation history.