The first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter ever to land at Cherry Point taxied up to Fleet Readiness Center East Tuesday morning.
The stealth jet, Navy Bureau Number 168059, is only the second production model of the F-35B to be completed by manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
It arrived at the FRC East maintenance and repair facility as the first F-35B to enter a modification program that officials have said would be vital to the maintenance of the entire fleet of fifth-generation aircraft.
All three models of the aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps will be serviced at FRC East at some time in the future.
The jet that landed Tuesday at Cherry Point is from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, a newly reactivated Marine Corps training squadron that will ultimately have 20 F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft based at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The unit is part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is based at Cherry Point.
FRC East officials could not confirm the name of the pilot that flew the aircraft to Cherry Point.
Dave Marriott, spokesman for FRC East, said that the plane had already been placed under tight security in a hangar at the facility.
Members of the press who had been invited to see the jet’s arrival were told early Tuesday that their access had been cut off by Marine Corps officials. The Public Affairs Office at Cherry Point provided two photographs of the historic event.
The jet represents the future of Marine Corps aviation. It is scheduled to replace the AV-8B Harriers, F/A-18 Hornets and the E/A-6B Prowlers that currently make up the fixed-wing aircraft of the 2nd MAW. The Marine Corps is purchasing 340 B models of the aircraft as well as 80 of the Navy C models.
The current Marine Corps plan is to base six squadrons of Joint Strike Fighter aircraft at Cherry Point beginning in 2022 or 2023.
Meanwhile, FRC East has been preparing for months for the maintenance of the new jets. Workers have been training in Arizona and Utah in preparation for the plane’s arrival. By April of 2015, FRC East hopes to have the capacity to work on six of the jets at the same time.
A formal invitation-only ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the new jet at FRC East is scheduled for Monday.
The jet is not without its opponents. The Joint Strike Fighter program is the most expensive in the history of the Department of Defense at $400 billion, according to a June 3 Time magazine article. The United States plans to buy about 2,500 of the planes for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps F-35B model, which has the ability for short vertical takeoffs and landings similar to the Harrier, costs about $159 million each.
Opponents point to the high costs as well as multiple delays in the program, but proponents have said the jet is far more technically advanced than anything in the sky and is crucial to maintaining air superiority.