VMFA-314: First Marine Corps Squadron Transitions to F35C

Lt. Col. Cedar L. Hinton, Commanding Officer of Marine Wing Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing lands VMFA-314’s first F-35C Lightning II on Marine Air Station Miramar, Calif., on Jan. 21. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dominic Romero)

Under instruction of the Navy’s F-35C fleet replacement squadron (FRS), Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 began transitioning from legacy F/A-18C Hornets to the F-35C Lightning II on Sept. 30.

VMFA-314’s transition from legacy Hornets to the F-35C began last June during a sundown ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, where the “Black Knights” formally retired their last F/A-18C Hornet and simultaneously embarked on the path to becoming the first Marine Corps squadron to fly the F-35 carrier variant. All previous Marine Corps F-35 transitions have been to the F-35B STOVL variant.

 “This transition process really began at the sundown ceremony in February  at Miramar,” said VMFA-314 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Cedar Hinton.

Since then, VMFA-314 has been moving toward becoming a fully operational F-35C squadron. Starting at the end of September, VMFA-314 has been spending the latter portion of 2019 at NAS Lemoore preparing for Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification (SFFOC).

VMFA-314 is part of Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) 3, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 11, located at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

SFFOC is the final milestone for VMFA-314’s transition to the F-35C. This process ensures a squadron is manned with qualified personnel to implement maintenance and safety programs in support of fleet operations. All transitioning squadrons are required to complete this certification prior to independently conducting flight operations.

The “Rough Raiders” of VFA-125 at NAS Lemoore play a critical role in transitioning VMFA-314 pilots and maintainers to the F-35C and ultimately achieving their SFFOC. When introducing a new aircraft to the fleet, the appropriate FRS is assigned oversight responsibility for the transitioning unit. VFA-125 was re-activated in January of 2017 to fulfill FRS role for the F-35C. 

SFFOC encompasses areas such as equipment, personnel and programs. Not least among them is the requirement for the squadron to be in the physical custody of at least 30 percent of the assigned aircraft.

The transition process for VMFA-314 at NAS Lemoore will last roughly six to seven months, with a large portion of the squadron returning to Miramar in early 2020 to prepare for SFFOC evaluations and inspections happening on-site later next spring. The Black Knights will receive their first aircraft at this time. 

Lt. Col. Cedar L. Hinton, Commanding Officer of VMFA-314, taxis the first Marine F-35C Lightning II after landing at MCAS Miramar, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dominic Romero)

“VMFA-314’s success would not be possible without the tireless support of VFA-125, the F-35C Fleet Integration Team (FIT) and Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing (CJSFW),” Hinton said. “

A factor in VMFA-314’s transition is their familiarity with the F-35 program. While the Navy and Marine Corps F-35C program declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in February 2019, the Marine Corps F-35B program accomplished IOC in July of 2015, exposing more personnel to the program. While the aircraft and many of the qualifications needed for VMFA-314’s SFFOC may be different, the program mindset translates well between the STOVL and carrier variant. 

“The Rough Raider team is already working with VMFA-314’s pilots and maintainers as they make the transition to the F-35C,” said VFA-125 Commanding Officer Capt. Adan Covarrubias. “While many of the pilots and maintainers making this transition have previous experience in operational, test and training F-35B squadrons, the formal introduction to the carrier variant begins here at NAS Lemoore.”

More than 65 percent of VMFA-314 maintainers have F-35B qualifications that can be carried over to the F-35C variant. During their time at NAS Lemoore, the Black Knights will be working with VFA-125 to complete squadron-wide F-35C qualifications and on-the-job training for all rates in preparation for their SFFOC early next year. With regard to training aircrew to meet SFFOC, almost half of the transitioning pilots come from an F-35 background, some even having significant experience in the F-35C.

“The Navy and Marine Corps have a rich heritage of deploying together in carrier air wings and VMFA-314’s transition to the F-35C furthers this warfighting partnership,” said CJSFW Capt. Max McCoy. “The Marine Corps will be critical to deploying fifth-generation capability in Navy carrier strike groups. We’re excited to have the Black Knights at NAS Lemoore and look forward to providing the training and support for their Safe-for-Flight Operations Certification as the first Marine Corps F-35C squadron.”

CJSFW, headquartered at Lemoore, ensures each F-35C squadron is combat-ready and trained in strike fighter and support missions as required by fleet commanders.

Lt. Cmdr. Lydia E. Bock is the public affairs officer for Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing.