Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314—the first Marine Corps unit to fly the F-35C carrier-borne version of the Lockheed Martin Lightning II—received its Safe-For-Flight Operations Certificate (SFFOC) at MCAS Miramar, California, on March 20. The award of the SFFOC signifies that the “Black Knights” of VMFA-314 are authorized to continue their operations independently, without the oversight of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Replacement (training) squadron, VFA-125 “Rough Raiders,” with whom the Black Knights had been training at NAS Lemoore, California, since September 2019. Receipt of the SFFOC verifies that the squadron is manned with qualified personnel who can implement maintenance and safety programs while the squadron works up toward combat readiness.
“The Black Knights have met or exceeded every challenge faced during this transition, and I am extremely proud to be a part of this fantastic squadron,” said squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Cedar Hinton. “Today’s achievement marks a significant milestone and the beginning of a new chapter in our storied legacy.” The first F-35C to wear the squadron’s markings was delivered to Lemoore in June to begin the replacement of the Boeing F/A-18A++, and the first to arrive at the squadron’s permanent base of Miramar did so on January 21, flown in by Hinton.
The SFFOC certification process covers a range of areas, including equipment, personnel, and programs. The installation and operation of management information systems and their accompanying support networks is a key requirement. There is also a need for operational squadrons to maintain robust maintenance programs and complete various inspections ranging from conventional weapons technical proficiencies to safety. Squadron personnel complete a transition curriculum and maintain specific competencies in accordance with Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures and Standardization guidelines.
The Marine Corps is buying 80 F-35Cs, in addition to 340 STOVL F-35Bs, and has accelerated procurement of the carrier-capable version to meet U.S. Navy carrier air wing requirements. The Marines are to equip five squadrons with the F-35C to augment the 260 aircraft that the Navy is buying. In 2022 VMFA-314 is expected to become the second F-35C squadron to go to sea, following the variant’s initial deployment aboard USS Carl Vinson in 2021 by the Navy’s VFA-147 “Argonauts.”
In early March, Lockheed Martin delivered the 500th F-35 of all variants, an F-35A for the Vermont Air National Guard. The production total then comprised 354 F-35As, 108 F-35Bs, and 38 F-35Cs. At around the same time, the global fleet—including test and development airframes—passed 250,000 flight hours.