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Marine Corps Air Station Miramar welcomes first carrier-capable F-35Cs in Marine Corps

A Lockheed Martin F-35C Lighting II, now based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in Fighter Attack Squadron 314, the Black Knights, was on display, January 31, 2020 in San Diego, California, during an inauguration event for the plane, new to Miramar.

HOWARD LIPIN, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS

By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: February 1, 2020

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Local Marine and political leaders officially welcomed to San Diego Friday the newest generation of fighters — the F-35C Lightning II.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 flew its first F-35C — the first in the Corps — to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Jan. 21. Its second jet arrived Friday. The squadron is set to be fully equipped with 10 fighters by the end of the year.

The F-35C is the third variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, which, at an estimated lifetime price tag of more than $1 trillion, is the most expensive military weapons program.

Maj. Gen. Kevin Iiams, the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Air Wing, said at a presentation on the base Friday that the new aircraft — the Navy's version of the F-35 — was a key part of the Marine Corps' mission in the future.

"Our Marine Corps has a long and enduring relationship with our Navy and it only strengthens with this aircraft," Iiams said. "We will get back to our fleet marine force roots and get very deeply embedded with our Navy, and the 'C' model does exactly that."

The Navy's model, designed to operate on Nimitz and Ford-class aircraft carriers, has a larger wingspan and longer range compared to other models of the F-35 to accommodate the demands of carrier operations.

Marine F-35Cs will replace the F/A-18C and D models now flown by Marines as part of carrier air wings.

The Marine Corps already flies the F-35B, which can land vertically and is the replacement for the AV-8B Harrier. Those jets deploy on amphibious ships.

The Air Force flies the F-35A variant, which takes off and lands on conventional airstrips.

Lt. Col. Cedar Hinton, the commanding officer of VMFA 314 — the first Marine Corps squadron to receive the carrier-variant F-35 — said the jet flew similar to the F/A-18s it's replacing.

"There's not a huge difference — it's a side stick vice between the legs," he said about the aircraft's controls. "I'd say the biggest difference is the interaction between pilot and vehicle. This is significantly different."

Hinton said one way to think about the F-35 is as a "combat weapons system and sensor that flies."

Marine Sgt. David Gonzalez, a squadron powerline mechanic, said he is excited to work on the latest Marine Corps aircraft.

"It's nice to be the first ones to be hands-on with this aircraft and be able to deploy," he said. "I can't wait."

That deployment, according to Hinton, is likely to come in 2021.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said during the presentation that he is proud of the role Miramar has in the nation's defense.

"When we see our F-35s flying overhead, they will be a constant reminder that San Diego is a proud military town and that our United States Marines and sailors stationed right here in our region have a critical leading role in defending our nation from threats worldwide," Peters said.

Peters also addressed ongoing community concerns about jet noise and safety around Miramar.

"I've never had a problem with any commander being responsive to the community — I really appreciate that," Peters said. "I know we'll continue to do that and we have more work to do."

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