Stealth fighter F-35C joins the Navy’s “Grim Reapers” strike squadron

 It was a moments of high anticipation when the Navy’s “Grim Reapers” received their newest aircraft: The fifth-generation F-35 fighter. Photo: Official party stands at attention F-35C rollout ceremony. Courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

SAN DIEGO, October 4, 2013  It was a moment of high anticipation when, on October 1 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the Navy’s “Grim Reapers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 rolled out their newest aircraft — an F-35C Lightening II. The F-35C is a break-through achievement of a Navy-industry partnership that was built to redefine U.S. air fighter support power from the sea.

According to Lockheed Martin, the leader of the aerospace team that designed and built the fifth-generation fighter, the F-35C is the world’s only carrier variant aircraft with radar-evading stealth capability. For the first time in U.S. Naval Aviation history, this multi-mission jet performs from the deck of an aircraft carrier as well from land.

The F-35C has an internal fuel capacity of 19,750 lbs. and combat radius of more than 600 nautical miles with a weapons payload of 18,000 lbs., and flys at speeds above Mach 1.6.

Lockheed Martin claims their agile, supersonic plane “is a first-day-of-the-war fighter with the capability to dominate adversaries in the air or on the surface, while surviving the most formidable threat environments.” 

Attending the ceremony were active-duty and retired service members from the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, including Adm. Bill Gortney, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, and Vice Adm. David H. Buss, Commander, Naval Air Forces. Also present were representatives from industry partners Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, and Pratt & Whitney, and several local community leaders.

The Navy released remarks made by Adm. Gortney, who recognized the significance of the rollout ceremony and the impact of adding capabilities of the F-35C. “The most important revolution is fusing these weapons with the rest of the weapons system, [including] our cruisers, destroyers, P-8’s, Tritons and operational and tactical headquarters – the decision makers.”

Buss said, “Our Navy needs aircraft capable of overcoming a variety of threats: surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles and tactical aircraft.”

“The F-35C mixed with the capabilities of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, E-2D Hawkeye and MH - 60R/S helicopters will provide carrier-based Naval Aviation the ability to fulfill requirements well into the future,” added Buss. The Navy’s carrier air wings’ two most important missions are to “assure access and project power.” In lay terms that means get to the target and blow it up.

The unique design and capabilities of the F-35C fulfills evolving defense needs which were spelled out by Lockheed Martin’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of the F-35C Lightening II program, Lorraine M. Martin. “With its rugged structure to withstand tough environments aboard our carriers, advanced avionics, high resolution sensors, fused targeting and combat information networks linked directly into the grid, the F-35C will become a critical, lethal node in the strike group network.”

With the arrival of this exceptional aircraft comes the demand for exceptional pilots to fly it. Capt. Paul Haas, Vice Commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, described the storied evolution of the “Grim Reapers” of VFA-101, “Throughout the years, the ‘Grim Reapers’ have fought in various aircraft, including the F-4F Wildcat, the FG1-D Corsair, the F-4 Phantom, the F-14 Tomcat and currently the F-35C.”

The “Grim Reapers” nickname has served three different squadrons: Fighter Squadrons (VF) 10, VF-101, and now VFA-101. Hass said, “They flew combat missions in the Battle of Guadalcanal and the Korean War and at various times since World War II, and served as trainers for future Naval Aviators joining the fleet.” The first two commanding officers of the original “Grim Reapers,” Vice Adm. James H. Flatley Jr. and Capt. William R. Kane, were honored.

As the first F-35C carrier variant aircraft squadron, Hass says, “Today’s ‘Grim Reapers’ are picking up where VF-101 left off almost a decade ago, laying a new foundation for training our nation’s premier carrier–based strike fighter aviators and maintainers.”

“The legacy of the ‘Grim Reapers’ is literally one for the history books, said Lockheed’s Martin, offering her praise. “Not only for its past, but expectations for the future. With the F-35C under this squadron’s command, VFA 101 will once again have the opportunity to fly their flag and leave their mark on aviation history.”

As new enemy threats emerge, American ingenuity raises high to meet them.

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Jeanne McKinney

Jeanne McKinney is an award-winning screenwriter, journalist and a patriot at heart. Her column, “Patriot Profiles”, gives a personal eye-opening view to the amazing men and women who are actively serving and protecting America, earth's beacon of freedom. Experience their harrowing jobs, close-call combat experiences, steel-clad brotherhood, heartbreaking sacrifice and more from the battlefields and training grounds and at home where families have to manage survival. Winner of San Diego Press Club "Excellence in Journalism Award" 1st Place - Military, 2012 and 2013.


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