Category Archives: F-35

Details Emerge About First U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Combat Mission in History.

Successful Strike Honored Marine Pilot Killed in Combat in September 2012.

New details and photos have emerged from last week’s first-ever combat mission by a U.S. military F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The mission, flown by an undisclosed number of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant aircraft, took place in the early morning hours of Thursday, September 27, 2018 and struck insurgent targets in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit flew the strike mission.

According to a story published late Tuesday, October 2, 2018 in the Marine Corps Times by journalist Shawn Snow, “Later that afternoon, photos of the historic feat published to the Defense Department’s imagery website displayed the name of a [deceased] squadron commander on one of the F-35Bs, who was killed in an infamous attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in September 2012.”

Snow went on to write that, “Lt. Col. Christopher Raible’s name appeared near the canopy of an F-35B prepping for the strike on the deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Essex. Often it’s a current pilot in the squadron whose name is on the plane.”



The USMC F-35B Lightning II shown in the photo from the Monday, September 27, 2018 strike in Afghanistan was named to honor the memory of USMC Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and his remarkable story of heroism while commanding the very same unit that flew this historic first U.S. F-35 strike.

On September 15, 2012 U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col Chris “Otis” Raible was commanding Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) the “Wake Island Avengers” then operating from Afghanistan’s Camp Bastion.

Lt. Col. Raible was nearing the end of his combat deployment in Afghanistan. Just after 2200 local time Lt. Col Raible was returning from dinner after flying a combat mission in an AV-8B Harrier earlier that day. Fifteen Taliban insurgents wearing stolen U.S. uniforms infiltrated Camp Bastion’s security perimeter and attacked U.S. Marine AV-8B Harriers parked inside the compound using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), machine guns and suicide vests.

In response after insuring the safety of his Marines Lt. Col. Raible, armed only with a sidearm, hurried to the area of the attack. Lt. Col. Raible determined the well-organized insurgent force had split into three groups: two tasked with destroying Marine AV-8B Harriers and the third group moving to kill U.S. Marines in their sleep.

Lt. Col. Raible ran 100-yards across open area under insurgent fire and rallied a group of aircraft maintenance personnel to mount a counter attack against the insurgents. Armed only with a handgun, Lt. Col. Raible’s swift, aggressive action temporarily stopped the Taliban insurgent attack and enabled Marines to organize an effective counterattack that lasted over four hours. The counterattack by Marines eventually neutralized the infiltrating insurgents after they had destroyed six AV-8B Harriers. Unfortunately, Lt. Col. Chris Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell were killed during the counter-offensive. It was also the greatest loss of U.S. Marine aircraft since the Vietnam War.

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier sits on the flight line at Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan Sept. 26, 2012. The Harrier was one of six relocated to Camp Bastion to increase the overall readiness level of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 and is painted in memory of Lt. Col. Christopher K. Raible and Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, who were killed during an attack on Camp Bastion Sept. 14, 2012.

One Marine wounded during the attack later told a reporter about Lt. Col. Raible’s gallantry, “My commanding officer never feared death and would want us to keep fighting. That’s what he would do.”

Lt. Col Chris “Otis” Raible’s name painted on one of the F-35B strike force aircraft in last week’s historic raid served to avenge his death and memorialize his heroism.

USMC Sgt. Bradley Atwell and Lt. Col. Chris Raible were both killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012. (Photos: U.S. Navy)

Finally, some observers of last Monday’s first U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter combat mission have speculated about the reasons for using USMC F-35B Lighting IIs. The aircraft launched from the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex in the Arabian Sea and flew a significant distance to strike their targets. But this has been pretty common: U.S. Navy aircraft launching from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf or in the Indian Ocean off Pakistan have supported Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan for decades now.

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 two F-35B taxiing at KAF the day after the type’s first ever air strike in Afghanistan. There’s a blimp (most probably a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System – JLENS) in the background.

The aircraft carried the external gun pod along with the two upper Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors.

Dealing with the radar reflectors, it’s pretty obvious that they were carried because there is no need to hide from any Taliban radars over Afghanistan.

Our own Editor David Cenciotti has observed that,  during normal peacetime activities, the F-35B uses two radar reflectors in the upper rear fuselage and one centerline in the lower rear fuselage. However, when it carries the external GAU-22 gun pod, the aircraft sports only two upper side radar reflectors. We have not found any image showing the aircraft with the external gun pod and without the Luneburg lenses. 

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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

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Anyway, capabilities unique to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter include greatly enhanced situational awareness and information sharing through the aircraft’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL). The MADL allows sensors on the aircraft to relay real-time intelligence to other assets including aircraft and ground forces, enabling them to work in the same informational space. While some version of this capability has been available with previous targeting pods and sensors, it was not designed-in and has not approached the intelligence gathering and sharing capability of the F-35s sensor and communications suite.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B taxi to the runway at KAF the morning after conducting the first air strike in Afghanistan.

In the dynamic insurgent conflict in Afghanistan very small targets are difficult to locate, move quickly and disappear easily. The F-35’s enhanced sensors and ability to immediately share dynamic intelligence across a wide spectrum in all conditions must be key to maintaining situational awareness and providing accurate targeting.

Seen from behind, the two VMFA-211 F-35B jets taxiing at KAF.

It’s possible the F-35Bs were tasked with this mission in Afghanistan, because they could share intelligence data in real-time with ground forces in both directions and “see” the targets better than any previous strike aircraft rather than because they are stealth (indeed, the presence of the radar reflectors shows they were exploiting Low Observability).

Top image: One of the USMC F-35Bs from the USS Essex carried the name of USMC Lt. Col. Christopher Raible who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Observing The British F-35B Lightning At Work At RAF Marham

Spotting outside RAF Marham, home of the UK’s stealth aircraft, on an ordinary day.

On Tuesday Sept. 25 afternoon, The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito went to RAF Marham, near the village of Marham in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia, UK, to take some photographs of the first British F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) stealth jets based there.

Whilst test pilots at the F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Md. are involved in the first of two First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing) phases, performing a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations on board HMS Queen Elizabeth to develop the F-35B operating envelope for Britain’s newest aircraft carriers, the 617 Sqn at RAF Marham has eventually ramped up flying activity to achieve initial operating capability (IOC) from land bases. Indeed, there is still a lot to do, considered that the UK-based F-35Bs have flown less than expected during the summer: as reported by Aviation Week’s Tony Osborne recently, none of the UK-based aircraft has flown for 34 consecutive days, from Jul. 26 to Aug. 29 (not including the arrival of five F-35Bs belonging to the second batch which arrived from the U.S. on Aug. 3)!

Side view for the F-35B ZM147 performing pattern work at RAF Marham on Sept. 25. (All images: Alessandro Fucito).

According to Osborne, little flying preceded the “mysterious month-long flying break”, considered that just 21 or 22 flights were flown up to July 26 (mainly local training sorties as well as the first vertical landings), including sorties flown in support of air show display flyovers. “The UK defense ministry insists the break in flying is a result of extensive maintenance checks and personnel on leave. But when the first batch of aircraft arrived in June, crews said they were expecting an intensive flying regime to achieve IOC,” commented Osborne.

Conventional approach to RWY19.

That said, our contributor Fucito has counted two F-35 sorties (and three Tornado ones) even though the Lightning jet was the same, ZM147, flying both missions. During each flight, the pilot has practiced three approaches, both in conventional and STOVL configuration, to the runway in use (RWY 01/19, the one that is used for short takeoffs and vertical landings, the other one, the 06/24 was closed for works). For those interested, the aircraft sported the type’s three Luneburg lenses (radar reflectors).

F-35B ZM147 configured for a Vertical Landing.

Although the activity was far from being “intense” at least the two F-35 sorties provided an opportunity for some interesting shots that you can find in this post.

The F-35B flew two sorties on Sept. 25: each included three approaches, both conventional and in Vertical Landing configuration.

As a side note, although they have not been grounded after a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B has crashed in the US, someone has noticed that there was no Lightning activity at RAF Marham this week.

Here Are Some Photographs of the F-35B Lightning Jets Landing on (and Launching From) Britain’s Newest Carrier for the First Time

Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray and RAF Squadron Leader Andy Edgell were the first pilots to land their F-35 Lightning stealth jets on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth.

In the last 24 hours we have commented two quite different F-35B Lightning II-related news: the first air strike in Afghanistan and the first crash in South Carolina. Both events involved U.S. Marine Corps STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant aircraft. However, these were not the only newsworthy events: on Tuesday Sept. 25, 2018, Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray and Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Md., were the first pilots to land the stealth F-35B on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The first landings and subsequent take-offs from HMS Queen Elizabeth “are the culmination of a British endeavor lasting more than a decade to bring an aircraft carrier back to the UK’s arsenal,” says an official U.S. DoD release.

Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time this week, laying the foundations for the next 50 years of fixed wing aviation in support of the UK’s Carrier Strike Capability.
Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray made history by being the first to land on, followed by Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the Integrated Test Force (ITF) based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The landings on Britain’s newest aircraft carrier (able to accommodate up to 24 F-35Bs out of the planned 138 F-35 Lightning jets) kicked off the first of two First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing) phases, held back-to-back this fall, where the ITF team plans to perform a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations to develop the F-35B operating envelope for QEC carriers. According to the ITF, the tests “will evaluate jet performance on over 200 test points during different weather and sea conditions as well as the aircraft’s integration with the ship. A third FOCFT (FW) phase followed by operational testing is scheduled for 2019.”

Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time this week, laying the foundations for the next 50 years of fixed wing aviation in support of the UK’s Carrier Strike Capability. Shortly afterwards, once a deck inspection has been conducted and the all-clear given, Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray, F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Md., became the first pilot to take off using the ship’s ski-ramp.
Courtesy photo by Royal Navy

The first landings were performed as HMS Queen Elizabeth operated off the U.S. East Coast. The aircraft carrier left Portsmouth in August, crossing the Atlantic to conduct the flying trials and joint training with the US Navy. The flight trials are scheduled to take around 11 weeks and +500 take-off and landings. The target is to be ready for a deployment from 2021.

F-35B prepares to land. (LM)

In an official Royal Navy release, the Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, Captain Jerry Kyd, said: “I am quite emotional to be here in HMS Queen Elizabeth seeing the return of fixed-wing aviation, having been the captain of the aircraft carrier which launched the last Harrier at sea nearly eight years ago.

“The regeneration of big deck carriers able to operate globally, as we are proving here on this deployment, is a major step forward for the United Kingdom’s defence and our ability to match the increasing pace of our adversaries. The first touch-downs of these impressive stealth jets shows how the United Kingdom will continue to be world leaders at sea for generations to come.”

Two F-35B Lightning II fighter jets successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time this week, laying the foundations for the next 50 years of fixed wing aviation in support of the UK’s Carrier Strike Capability.
Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray made history by being the first to land on, followed by Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the Integrated Test Force (ITF) based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Commodore Andrew Betton, the commander of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group, said: “The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers have been specifically designed and built to operate the F-35, offering an immensely flexible and potent combination to deliver military effect around the world.

F-35B on the ski jump. (LM)

“Conducting these trials is a critical and exciting step on this journey and I applaud the many thousands of civilian and military personnel who have played a part in bringing the strategic ambition to reality.”

Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray in his F35B following the first deck landing aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. Gray and Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, both test pilots at the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md, landed the first two jets on the new British aircraft carrier this week.
Courtesy photo by Royal Navy

 

 

USMC F-35B Lightning Crashes Near MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina: Pilot Ejects.

Details of First-Ever F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Crash Are Developing.

A U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has crashed near Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station outside of Beaufort, South Carolina on the U.S. East Coast. Reports indicate the pilot ejected from the aircraft. His condition is not known at this time.

MCAS Beaufort is home to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501), the “Warlords”. The unit is a training squadron equipped with 20 F-35B Lightning II aircraft and serves as the Fleet Replacement Squadron.

This first-ever crash of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes only one day after a U.S. Marine F-35B flew its first operational combat mission over Afghanistan.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Update 17.55 GMT

Update 18.48 GMT

Video filmed at the crash site:

U.S. F-35B Joint Strike Fighters Perform Their First-Ever Air Strike On Targets in Afghanistan

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightings Of VMFA-211 Hit Targets in Afghanistan From USS Essex.

For the first time in history U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters flew in combat on Sept. 27, 2018. Official U.S military sources characterized the mission as “successful”.

U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, the “Wake Island Avengers”, of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, used their F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters to hit insurgent targets in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province early Thursday morning.

The long-range strikes were launched from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf. The USS Essex recently transited the Gulf of Aden as it sailed through the North Arabian Sea and finally to combat stations in the Persian Gulf where today’s historic first-ever long range strikes were launched.

The Israeli Air Force was the first in the world to employ the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in combat earlier this year when they used their F-35I Adir aircraft to hit undisclosed targets at least twice.

While the Joint Strike Fighter program has advanced since 2006 without a major in-flight mishap or loss of life and established numerous technical milestones it has been the focus of intense criticism due to costs and perceived delays.

Today’s U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II strikes may either begin to temper criticism of the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program or increase it even more. Indeed, while it represents the baptism of fire for the American 5th generation multirole aircraft in the STOVL variant, it also raises questions. Among them, the most obvious is: was a stealth aircraft, the most expensive defense program in history, required to hit Taliban targets in Afghanistan?

Thursday’s historic U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II mission was “in support of ground clearance operations” according to a report in the Military Times by defense experts Tara Copp and Valerie Insinna released just hours ago.



The U.S. Marine Corps was the first military service in the world to integrate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter into operational service during 2015. Of the three U.S. versions of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II is the most complex, using an innovative vectored thrust and lift-fan configuration to take off from a ship’s flight deck without a catapult in a short distance and land back on board vertically from a hover. U.S. Marine F-35Bs used in the strikes today were also equipped with the externally mounted GAU-22 25mm gun pod in addition to the weapons in the internal bays.

The photos released by the DoD, show the F-35B being prepared for the first air strike with what seems to be a GBU-32 1000-lb JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) under the weapon bay.

viationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/VMFA-211-F-35-Essex-loading.jpg”> U.S. 5th FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS – U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), stage ordnance before loading it into an F-35B Lightning II aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in preparation for the F-35B’s first combat strike, Sept. 27, 2018. The Essex is the flagship for the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 13th MEU, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. A. J. Van Fredenberg/Released)

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[/caption]By contrast to the U.S. Marine  F-35B Lightning II, the U.S. Navy uses a version of the Joint Strike Fighter called the F-35C with wider wings and different landing gear to facilitate catapult launches and arrestor hook recoveries onboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The U.S. Air Force flies the F-35A Lightning II, a conventional take-off and landing aircraft that flies from land based runways. While the U.S. Air Force has declared their F-35A Lightning IIs as operational the U.S. Navy is still in the final implementation phase of their wide-winged F-35C Lightning IIs.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Commander Vice Admiral Scott Stearney told reporters that, “The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” The Vice Admiral went on to say, “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”