JANUARY 23, 2020 – 3rd Marine Air Wing made history when it welcomed the Marine Corps’ first F-35C Lightning II to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Jan. 21, 2020.
The Marines and sailors of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, the “Black Knights,” are extremely proud of their legacy and tradition of making aviation history.
“It should be no surprise that VMFA-314 is once again leading the way into the next generation of fighter attack aircraft,” said Lt. Col Cedar Hinton, commanding officer of VMFA-314.
The squadron’s history began with its commissioning in 1943 at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, as the “Bob’s Cats.” In 1952, they were the first squadron in 3rd MAW to transition to jet aircraft and fly the F-9F Panther. In 1957, they officially became the “Black Knights” with the arrival of the F-4D Skyray. In October 1961, the “Black Knights” were the first Marine Corps squadron to transition to the F-4B Phantom and in 1982, the first in the Department of the Navy to fly the F/A-18 Hornet.
The “Black Knights” have proven themselves time and again from campaigns in the South Pacific to the Vietnam War and from Operation El Dorado Canyon to the Global War on Terror. VMFA-314’s storied history should give the American people confidence that the “Black Knights” will continue to fix, fly, and fight the next generation of aircraft.
The F-35C is one of three variants fielded by the Department of Defense. It is a result of decades of advancements that provide aviation capabilities previously thought unattainable.
The “C” variant was designed to operate from an aircraft carrier and is the first 5th generation long-range stealth strike fighter jet designed for that mission. The F-35C’s control surfaces and landing gear are better equipped for carrier operation than the other variants. The F-35C is equipped with larger internal fuel storage, which when combined with its ability to refuel in-flight, extends its range and allows for enhanced flight time when compared to other aircraft.
The F-35 variants include the F-35A, which utilizes conventional takeoff and landing and is designed to operate from traditional land-based runways. The F-35B is a short takeoff and vertical landing variant and specifically designed to operate from austere airfields and amphibious ships. 3rd MAW is proud that it now employs the first F-35C squadron along with two F-35B squadrons with more planned in the near future.
“The F-35C represents the leading edge of advanced fighter attack aircraft today,” said Hinton. “It will give the Black Knights a technological advantage across the entire spectrum of tactical aviation. This includes everything from advanced sensor and weapon integration to increased range and endurance. We will be more survivable and more lethal than we have ever been.”
The “Black Knights” are now one of three F-35 squadrons in 3rd MAW, with more coming soon, which gives credence to 3rd MAW’s reputation as the Marine Corps’ premier and most lethal aviation wing.
The “Black Knights’” transition to the F-35C began in June 2019 and was marked by the traditional “sun-down” ceremony where VMFA-314 flew the Hornet for the last time. After which, they began training on the F-35C.
The next 3rd MAW squadron set to transition from the F/A-18 is VMFA-225, which will celebrate their last F/A-18 flight on Jan. 23, 2020.
VMFA-314 spent the latter portion of 2019 at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California preparing for their operations certifications and completing squadron-wide F-35C qualifications. This process ensured the squadron was equipped with qualified personnel to implement the maintenance and safety programs necessary for an operational F-35 squadron.
“Transitioning a squadron into a new aircraft with many new Marines comes with a lot of challenges,” said Hinton. “However, it also provides a unique opportunity to start fresh and build a strong squadron culture from the ground up. We are all extremely excited to ensure the ‘Black Knights’ continue our legacy of leading from the front as we deliver this new capability to 3rd MAW.”
3rd MAW will continue to pave the way for the future of Marine Corps aviation and “Fix, Fly, and Fight” as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing.
Story by 1st Lt. Charles Allen
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar / 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing