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Navy’s VFA-101 Stands Up at Eglin

The Navy officially reconstituted the famed VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2013. The squadron had been reactivated May 1, 2012, on its 60th anniversary, after its disestablishment in 2005.

“The F-35C brings a broad range of force packages to the Navy fleet – capitalizing on the integration of advanced mission systems, stealth technology and supersonic capabilities,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager of the F-35 Program Lorraine Martin in a company press release. “The F-35C will enhance the flexibility, power projection, and rapid response of carrier air wings and joint task forces for decades to come.”

The first mission by a VFA-101 F-35C was flown from Eglin on Aug. 14, 2013, after Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Vice Adm. David Buss granted the squadron Interim Safe for Flight status.

The Grim Reapers’  F-35C Lightning II is the Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. VFA-101 is the Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadron for the F-35C, training naval aviators to fly the aircraft, and maintainers to keep them in the air. The Grim Reapers are one of three squadrons in the 33rd Fighter Wing based at Eglin. The Air Force’s 33rd FW is unique in that it is comprised of one training squadron from each service: VFA-101; the Marine Corps’ VMFAT-501 “Warlords;” and the Air Force’s 58th Fighter Squadron “Mighty Gorillas.” The 58th Fighter Squadron will train Air Force personnel on the F-35A; VMFAT-501 will train Marines to fly the F-35B STOVL variant; and VFA-101 will train Navy aviators to fly the F-35C carrier variant.

First VFA-101 F-35C arrival

Arrival of F-35C airframe CF-6, side number 101, at Eglin AFB on June 24, 2013, the first F-35C to be delivered to VFA-101. Lockheed Martin photo by Andrew McMurtrie

While sharing a large percentage of parts and systems in common, each variant has unique features, such as the Air Force F-35A’s flying boom refueling configuration and internal gun, the Marine Corps F-35B’s STOVL system and smaller weapons bays; and the arresting hook and larger wing and tail surfaces of the Navy F-35C variant.

VFA-101 first Eglin sortie

Lt. Cmdr. Chris “Carbomb” Tabert of VFA-101 takes off from Eglin AFB in F-35C side number 102 during the first local sortie on Aug. 14, 2013. Lockheed Martin photo by Liz Kaszynski

VFA-101 received its first F-35C aircraft on June 24, 2013. The first mission by a VFA-101 F-35C was flown from Eglin on Aug. 14, 2013, after Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific Vice Adm. David Buss granted the squadron Interim Safe for Flight status.

“VFA-101’s achievement of the Interim Safe For Flight (ISFF) criteria constitutes a significant milestone in the introduction of the F-35C Lightning II into the fleet,” Capt. Mark Black, commander, Strike Fighter Wing, Pacific said in a release issued in August. “VFA-101 will now begin to schedule and perform sorties under their own charter from their facilities at Eglin AFB. This will permit the reestablished Grim Reapers to begin training for the original flight instructor cadre that will teach future F-35C pilots in the intricacies of mastering the Navy’s first 5th generation fighter.”