MAY 12, 2016, NAVAL AIR STATION LEMOORE, Calif. (NNS) – The “Grim Reapers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101 completed the first ever Conventional Weapons Technical Proficiency Inspection, the final phase required for Safe for Flight certification by Commander, Naval Air Forces, April 11, at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.
The Grim Reapers have overcome many challenges during the standup of the first Fleet Readiness Squadron and helped pave the way for the future of this fifth generation aircraft.
Grim Reaper aviation ordnancemen (AO), both men and women, exhibited an impressive level of knowledge and demonstrated proficiency to both safely upload and download ordnance to the F-35C during the inspection.
“Our CWTPI phases at NAS Lemoore provided an excellent opportunity for us to validate and refine many of our established weapons handling processes and procedures,” said Lt. Thomas Bumpass, VFA-101 aviation ordnance officer, a.k.a. ‘Gunner’.
Inspectors from the Strike Fighter Weapons School Pacific judged the proficiency of both aviation electronics technicians (AT) and AOs through the process of prepping an aircraft for ordnance, as well as loading all authorized loads for release. Members of SFWSP from NAS Lemoore, who are familiar with the inspection for F-18 E/F Super Hornet variants, observed the event.
The aircraft was prepped and loaded with two types of guided bomb units: GBU-12 series laser-guided bombs and GBU-31 joint direct attack munition series GPS-guided bombs. A total of 26 bombs of both variants were successfully released at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twenty-nine Palms Range.
“Our detachment to Lemoore marked the first time that our avionics and ordnance teams have configured aircraft with weapons intended for flight and weapon expenditures, so we now know the training that we are accomplishing in simulated environments works well in tactical environments. We will use this knowledge to polish our training and to push forward with developing weapons handling and loading techniques that will allow easy integration into the fleet,” said Bumpass. “It’s really satisfying when it all comes together. We look forward to our next opportunity to showcase the F-35C’s weapons system and warfighting capabilities.”
VFA-101 received outstanding marks with zero discrepancies in all three phases of the inspection for the F-35C, which included initial release and control, loading and unloading procedures leading to Phase III live employments.
Following these intensive eight days of drills and inspections, the Grim Reapers’ Skipper Capt. James Christie proudly announced to the squadron that VFA-101 accomplished the final milestone to achieve Safe for Flight designation by the Commander of Strike Fighter Wing Pacific.
“The squadron demonstrated our ability to execute as a cohesive unit, from the flawless performance by our ordnance personnel to the professional execution of our aircrew,” said Lt. Nicolas Rezendes, F-35C pilot assigned to VFA-101.
“I couldn’t be happier that CWTPI was successful, and I couldn’t be more proud of the VFA-101 team and all parties involved. It is great to be involved in the Navy’s F-35C program, and to be able to see the amazing capabilities of this aircraft. I cannot wait to see the further strides the F-35C is destined to make in the future,” said VFA-101’s Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Timothy Scott. “This was a great opportunity for those new to the squadron and those who are seasoned veterans to see, train, and experience what the future holds for the United States Navy.”
The entire process has made the Grim Reapers team stronger and has prepared them to face the many challenges that lie ahead.
“I am immensely proud of what the Grim Reapers have accomplished. The Safe for Flight certification represents months of extremely hard work, hallmarked by exceptional teamwork, dedication and pride within the maintenance department,” said Christie, commanding officer of VFA-101. “This squadron is all about establishing the foundation for the Navy’s fifth generation era. From maintenance practices to flying skills, and the culture that ties it all together, the Grim Reapers have truly earned their achievements and have established a superb foundation to build upon.”
“The work that began when the first F-35C arrived at VFA-101 almost three years ago could not have been possible without the total effort of each and every Grim Reaper,” said Christie.
The impending Safe for Flight certification for VFA-101 is only the beginning of their contribution toward initial operational capability as the Grim Reapers will continue to refine the capabilities of the F-35C during their first scheduled carrier qualification event in June on board the USS George Washington (CVN 73).
Worth noting, VFA-101 started training their first official class of seven pilots who will transition to VFA-125 to become the second F-35C FRS, located at Naval Air Station Lemoore, and the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 9 (VX-9) Detachment at Edwards Air Force Base.