Air Force pilots make history when first to fly Marine Corps F-35Bs aboard assault ship

Air Force Pilots make history
U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer G. Weide, left, and Capt. Justin J. Newman, F-35B Lightning IIs pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), pose with an F-35 aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during routine operations in the eastern Pacific, Oct. 6, 2019. Amphibious assault ships, such as the America, provide flexibility to the joint force by supporting a spectrum of air operations from fifth generation jets to heavy lift helicopters.(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Juan Anaya)

While not operating the short take off vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Air Force got a taste of F-35B Lightning II’s shipborne operations thanks to two operational pilots flying with the U.S. Marine Corps Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 out of Marine Air Corps Station Yuma, Arizona.

Capts. Spencer Weide and Justin Newman, from Kunsan Air Force Base, South Korea, were the first operational U.S. Air Force pilots to fly the F-35B aboard USS America as part of an integrated training exercise in the Eastern Pacific on Sept. 27, 2019.

Thirteen F-35Bs assigned to VMGA 122, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Maritime Expeditionary Force are currently aboard the amphibious assault ship in what is the largest deployment of the Lightning II at sea.

“This was the deployment of the largest number of F-35s ever put to sea, and for two weeks we put sortie rates to the test, deck cycles to the test, and multiship control to the test, all while stressing the communication links and tactics that will make us successful in any combat environment, anywhere in the world, as a joint Navy-Marine Corps team,” said Lt. Col. John Dirk, commanding officer, VMFA 122, in a Navy public release.

“The training went exceedingly well. We were able to sustain a high sortie rate, with a high condition of readiness, while interoperating with multiple ships and aircraft across a range of mission sets,” Dirk said. “To fight together we have to train together, and there is no better Navy-Marine Corps training than living together, briefing together, and flying off of Navy ships where we can strengthen our relationships, mature our tactics, and exercise the capabilities of the present for the challenges of the future.”

Interestingly, the U.S. Air Force was also part of the team, partnering with naval forces and integrating the MAW’s combat capabilities.

“This is a unique opportunity for the Air Force to integrate with Marines and sailors overseas,” Weide said in a PACAF release.

Integrated training like this is important because we operate off of a ship, Newman said.

“We get to learn the naval and Marine warfare functions. This will allow us to return the knowledge back to the Air Force for better future integration.”