Experiencing the Innovations of the F-35B (Corps Connections) (Features)

The F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter demonstrates its capabilities during an approach above the USS Wasp flight deck while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013. This is the second of three planned sea trials designed to test the capabilities of the Department of Defense's newest multi-role jet aircraft. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Pfc. Kathy Nunez)

The F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter demonstrates its capabilities during an approach above the USS Wasp flight deck while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013. This is the second of three planned sea trials designed to test the capabilities of the Department of Defense’s newest multi-role jet aircraft. (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Pfc. Kathy Nunez)

As a new Marine in the Corps, I enlisted at an exciting time of change.

The Marine Corps is drawing down its forces in Afghanistan and shifting its focus back to its amphibious roots. Marines will spend more time on ship creating a need for aircraft equipped to be a force of readiness in the Pacific.

The F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter is one of the Corps’ newest innovations. The new aircraft is capable of taking off and landing on ships, making it the ideal aircraft as the Corps moves forward. Last weekend, I was given the chance to watch Marine pilots test the F-35B aboard the USS Wasp at sea.

It was an experience I will never forget.

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Sailors refuel the F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter during a demonstration of its capabilities while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers aboard the USS Wasp off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013. This is the second of three planned sea trials designed to test the capabilities of the Department of Defense's newest multi-role jet aircraft. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Kathy Nunez)

Sailors refuel the F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter during a demonstration of its capabilities while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers aboard the USS Wasp off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013. The F-35B is one of the Marine Corps’ newest innovations which will enhance the Corps’ amphibious capabilities.

We ran out out to the helicopter, pushing through the air currents the blades were creating.

After taking a seat and buckling myself in, the doors closed and we were given the OK to take our goggles off. It was a rainy day; not exactly perfect flying conditions.

The blades whirled above us, hitting the air hard. It was all we could hear through our ear protection. I looked at the ground through the window and it hit me – I was on a helicopter for the first time.

At takeoff, the helicopter swung side-to-side. As we flew further into the sky, everything below us became small.

We were on our way to the USS Wasp, where Marines were testing the capabilities of the F-35Bs.

| More: An inside look at the F-35B |

After a longer than expected flight due to weather, we landed on the USS Wasp, grabbed our belongings, and ran off the flight deck. My boots were no longer firmly planted on land. I was no longer flying over miles and miles of ocean. I was completely surrounded by water on an enormous aircraft carrier.

As we walked through the USS Wasp, it was like walking through a different world.

The F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter takes off from the USS Wasp during a demonstration of its capabilities while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013.

The F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter takes off from the USS Wasp during a demonstration of its capabilities while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013.

I could feel myself rocking back and forth with the ship. No matter where we went, there were people at work. Everything was made of metal. The stairs were steep, the halls were narrow, the doors were heavy, and the rooms were small, but even so, we were on an extraordinary ship.

Despite the ugly weather, the breath-taking view of the never-ending ocean from the hangar deck caught my eye the most.

Due to weather conditions, no F-35Bs flew that day.

Luckily for us, the next day was a nice and sunny day. The ocean water looked calm. Flights were on as scheduled.

I didn’t know what to expect, how the jet landed or how it took off.

Before landing, the jet circled the air above us, getting lower and lower each time. It was loud. It flew far enough to look like a speck in the sky and close enough to see all the detail.

The pilot eventually brought the F-35 to a stop above ship. He hovered above it momentarily and brought it down vertically. The water below it sprayed everywhere. Soon after landing, they were back in the air again. I was warned to brace myself before take off, and with reason.

The F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter lands aboard the USS Wasp during a demonstration of its capabilities while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013.

The F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter lands aboard the USS Wasp during a demonstration of its capabilities while being tested by Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots and engineers off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 19, 2013.

It blew me away, literally. As soon as the jets took off, a powerful gush of wind hit everyone.

The flight deck crew signaled to the pilot to ensure that everything was ready for takeoff.

The panels on the jet opened, and the pilot drove the jet forward on the ramp, increasing in speed. Right before the jet reached the edge of the ship, it was up in the air, gradually increasing in altitude.

After watching the jet take off and land a few times, it was time to head back to land. We packed up our gear and flew back.

Over the next several months, Marines will continue to test the F-35B and the role it will have in future operations worldwide. The possibilities that this aircraft bring are exciting and are just another example of how Marines are equipped and ready for ever-changing locations and operations.

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Experiencing the Innovations of the F-35B (Corps Connections) (Features)