The skies over southeastern Louisiana got a little louder Jan. 27-Feb. 5, 2020, with the arrival of the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 “Warlords” who put their F-35B Lightning II aircraft to the test.
A small detachment of nine aircraft, five pilots in training, and about 150 Marines filling support roles made their way from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., to conduct air-to-air enemy weapons training with NOLA’s own Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 204, the River Rattlers.
Maj. Joseph Diniega, an instructor pilot with VMFAT-501 and Pearl City, Hi., native, explained that VFA-204 possess aircraft with greater technical capabilities than that of the aircraft they typically train against.
“For us to be able to train to that brings another level-up for our game,” said Diniega. “[We can] provide that level of training for the students, so they can see what it’s like in the real world. So, it’s a little more advanced, a little more realistic, and almost what they would actually be [facing].”
The Lightning II brings a whole new way for pilots to navigate the battlefield, combining the information from multiple different systems into a single display, rather than having to read several different display systems and put the information together themselves.
“It’s just right there in your display. The aircraft, itself, can help solve a pilot’s biggest actual problem with its algorithms: figuring out the good guys from the bad guys,” said Diniega.
According to Diniega, that immediate situational awareness makes for an exceptionally lethal pilot-aircraft combination.
Student pilots with VMFAT-501 undergo rigorous training before graduating and moving on to fleet squadrons.
“I enjoy teaching,” said Diniega. “I enjoy watching students learn and build upon themselves brick of the knowledge by brick of the knowledge as they go through the entire syllabus. Then, at the end, seeing them move on knowing they’ll be capable of all the different missions areas they will provide to the Marine Corps, the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and the Joint Forces.”
Diniega described the training as “valuable,” and hopes for more opportunities to join forces with other squadrons stationed on board Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans for training in the future.