A Look Back at the F-35Bs deployed to the Middle East on the 243rd Birthday of the USMC.
Today is the 243rd Anniversary of the United States Marine Corps. The Marines were born on November 10, 1775 as an elite maritime-capable combat force by the Second Continental Congress with the decree:
“That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.”
In observance of this anniversary it’s worth watching this video of USMC F-35B Lightning IIs refueling from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 somewhere over the Middle East during the first U.S. combat deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. We have already published shots taken during that very same sortie, highlighting the presence of the gun pod under the fuselage.
The video of the USMC F-35Bs was shot by USAF Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs on September 15, 2018.
Shooting video from a KC-135 Stratotanker of the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, the USMC F-35Bs of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit take on fuel somewhere over the Middle East using the drogue system on the KC-135 boom.
Because of the position of the lift-fan on the F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant the aircraft does not have the refueling receptacle on top of the fuselage as with the F-35A, so the Marines use the hose and drogue method. You can see in the video that sometimes it gets tricky staying on the drogue as an F-35B bobs up and down taking on fuel. Another F-35B is seen on the drogue with a significant amount of fuel vapor streaming into the air just above the right intake.
The USMC deployment was the first time the U.S. deployed F-35Bs to the Middle East as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group or ARG. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is also the first combat-deployed MEU to operate the F-35B Lighting II. This is also the first-ever combat deployment of a supersonic STOVL aircraft in aviation history since the Israelis, who debuted the F-35A in combat in the Middle East, fly a conventional take-off and landing variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
On Sept. 27, 2018 U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters hit insurgent targets in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. The mission, flown by an undisclosed number of aircraft from USS Essex but, interestingly, at least two aircraft, modex CF-00 and CF-01, made a stopover in Kandahar Air Field after the air strike before returning to the aircraft carrier.
The aircraft carried the external gun pod along with the two upper Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors.
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I have made an interesting and geeky discovery today analyzing the shots of the USMC F-35B deployed for the first time near the Horn of Africa (article at TheAviationist.com). Therefore, during normal peacetime activities, the F-35B uses radar reflectors (unless it has to remain stealthy – during the first days of a war): 3 reflectors (2 in the upper rear fuselage, 1 centerline in the lower rear fuselage – the one underneath the fuselage can be seen in the bottom image) as opposed to the F-35A (middle photo) that wears 4 ones (2 upper side and 2 lower side). However, when it carries the external GAU-22 gun pod, the F-35B carries only 2 upper side radar reflectors (you can only see one of these in the top image): most probably the external pod degrades the RCS so much no additional reflector is needed. #theaviationist #f35 #f35b #stealth #radarreflector
On Sept. 28, a U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter crashed near Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, South Carolina on the U.S. East Coast. The pilot ejected from the aircraft. The incident led to a temporary stand down of the worldwide fleet, on Oct. 12, 2018 for safety inspections of their fuel flow systems.