The US Marine Corps will stand up its first operational Lockheed Martin F-35B squadron this November if everything goes according to plan, a senior service official says. Prior to that, the USMC hopes to formally start training new F-35B pilots in October at Eglin AFB, Florida.
"VMFA-121 will now be the first squadron to stand-up in Yuma, [Arizona]," the senior official says. "They will stand down as an F/A-18D squadron in July once they return from deployment to Japan."
The desert base should get its first jet in November, the official says. But that is contingent upon starting up the F-35B training pipeline at Eglin, he says.
There are currently two USMC test pilots flying at the Florida base, but that number will soon increase.
"We should start getting additional pilots qualified in July," the official says. "Training will still be delayed until we get at least 120 hours of maturation flying, but I am hopeful we can start training students by October."
Once the additional USMC aviators are qualified in the F-35B, those pilots will be able to help bang out the 120 hours quickly.
"We will be close, but I think we can do it," the official says.