WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 16 SEAPOWER / MAY 2016
The Navy is building up its training capacity for fleet introduction of the carrier-based version of the F- 35 Lightning II joint strike fighter and is
preparing to stand up a second fleet replacement (FRS)
squadron next year to handle fleet squadron transitions.
Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101), based at
Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., was reactivated on May 1,
2012, to be the Navy’s FRS for the F-35C. Commanded
since July by Capt. James “Cruiser” Christie, the Grim
Reapers are engaged in training instructor pilots and
maintenance personnel for other units that will be
flying the F-35C.
VFA-101 has 20 F-35Cs on strength, said Christie,
who was an F/A- 18 pilot with combat service in
Operations Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi
Freedom and New Dawn.
“It grows at about a jet every six to eight weeks,” he
said, noting that the squadron’s allotted strength is 15
F-35Cs. “We’ve been authorized to have an additional
15 aircraft on the ramp here so long as we don’t exceed
the flight operations of our 15 aircraft assigned. The
reason why is because I’m still accepting the aircraft
for entities that haven’t quite been formally established
yet. I’m kind of the shock absorber. I will blossom up
to maybe as many as 26 — I can go up to 30 — but
once I transfer all those jets out to those entities, then
I will be at or below my [allowance
of] 15 jets.”
VFA-101 will hold six F-35Cs
until late this year or early 2017
for the Operational Test &
Evaluation detachment of Air Test
& Evaluation Squadron (VX) Nine
until those aircraft are positioned
at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
VFA-101 also is a holding pen for
F-35Cs slated for use by VFA-125,
a second FRS being reactivated
on Jan. 1 at Naval Air Station
For the foreseeable future, VFA-
101 will not be training brand-new aviators or pilots
from squadrons in transition to the F-35C. It will be
busy training pilots to become instructor pilots of its
own and for VFA-125, where the new F-35C fleet pilots
will be trained. But VFA-101 eventually could find
itself training fleet pilots for the Navy, and possibly the
“We certainly have the capability to do that here,”
said Christie, whose executive officer is a Marine lieutenant colonel who is trained and flies the F-35C. “Our
squadron stance is we’re ready to provide transition
training for the F-35C to whomever is deemed a quota,
regardless of their services. We don’t decide that. We
just have the syllabus and we take on any customer
that is assigned to come our way.
“If [VFA-]125 does not have the capacity to handle
all the demand of a fleet transition, we can certainly
augment that and be a relief valve for them,” he said.
“If that isn’t an issue, we can still allow 125 to focus
on the fleet transitions and then we can handle the
continued need for the developmental test pilots, the
operational test pilots [and] internally for our own
people” as well as for the Topgun instructors at the
Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center in
Navy F-35C training squadron prepares instructor pilots for the fleet
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
The Navy is training the initial instructor pilots and maintenance
personnel for the F-35C strike fighter program.
n VFA-101 is developing the training syllabus and training instructors for the fleet.
n A second squadron, VFA-125, will begin the fleet squadron
transitions in 2017.
n VFA-101 will conduct the first fleet carrier qualifications in June.