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MCAS Yuma to have full squadron of F-35B fighters by end of 2013

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 has already received three of its F-35B Lightning IIs and will continue to get more planes, as well as newly-trained pilots and aircraft maintainers in the coming months. In fact, it's expected to have a full squadron of aircraft by the end of 2013.

The first F-35B Lightning II landed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma back on Nov. 16. A second F-35B arrived at the air station four days later during a re-dedication ceremony for the squadron, known as the Green Knights. The third aircraft arrived later that same day.

"It's Marine Corps history being made and history for our nation," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Scott, the squadron's commander. "It's a very capable fighter aircraft that is made to go out, find the enemy, not be detected, and destroy it."

As the home of the first operational squadron of F-35B fighters in the nation, Marine Corps air Station Yuma will get 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.

Capt. Staci Reidinger, director of MCAS public affairs office, said although the air station has already begun receiving its complement of F-35Bs, there is still lot of testing that needs to be done before the fighter is combat-ready.

Reidinger said during this time VMFA-121 will also continue to build its structural and technological capabilities, sharing lessons learned with U.S. Air Force, Navy and other Marine Corps aviation squadrons that are expected to spend time at the air station for training.

Flight operations with the new F-35B are scheduled to begin in January of 2013 and will occur on a daily basis.

MCAS Yuma has been a very busy place the past two years as it has prepared for the arrival of the new aircraft, pilots and crews. About $400 million has been invested in the construction of infrastructure so far.

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In total, as much as $500 million could be allotted to the air station by 2015, including $100 million this year. Some future projects over the next three years include a Security Operations building and new Combat Aircraft Loading apron.

A simulator building has already been completed, with eight F-35 flight simulators being installed. In addition, a new utility communications facility and a new maintenance facility are being erected. A second hangar is expected to be completed this fall.

Construction is also under way on a new Field-Carrier Landing Practice training facility on the Barry M. Goldwater Range that will be used to train F-35 pilots on how to land on the deck of amphibious assault ships at sea. The project is expected to be completed by July 2013.

Among the already completed and near-completed projects are two new hangars, which cost about $38 million each. While specifically being designed for the F-35B, the hangars can also be used to maintain other aircraft if needed.

The first JSF hangar was occupied on Aug. 20 by VMFA-121. Until recently the squadron had been based at MCAS Miramar in California and flew the F/A-18D.

The third and fourth hangars are in design, with construction expected to be completed in May 2014. The fifth JSF hangar has not been awarded yet, but the base expects to demolish two of the older fixed-wing hangars and replace them with the fifth F-35 hangar within the next five years.

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