A new era in Marine Corps aviation is taking place with training flights of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
That new era is expected to land at Cherry Point in July when the air station is scheduled to welcome its first F-35B.
Mary Beth Fennell, integrated product team director at Fleet Readiness Center East, told members of the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group that the repair and maintenance facility is expecting its first F-35B in July.
But there is still work to do before the facility’s mechanics and engineers will get to work doing modifications to the new aircraft.
FRC East is beginning modifications to current facilities to support the F-35, the largest program in Department of Defense history. The tools, stands and other support equipment are F-35 specific and not common with any of the other aircraft being refurbished at FRC East, Fennell said.
By June, facility modifications should be complete and a new Autonomic Logistics Information System should be operational. Dave Marriott, public affairs specialist at FRC East, said that system would allow FRC East workers to order and track components of the jet while integrating operations, maintenance and technical data.
Some FRC East employees have already been working on F-35Bs, just not at Cherry Point. Marriott said a two-person team has been sent to Yuma, Ariz., twice for work on modifications to the new jet’s air inlet door.
"The first time any team works a modification or maintenance procedure on a new weapons platform, it’s an on-the-job training evolution," Marriott said.
He also said an FRC East team has gone to Hill Air Force Base in Utah with Lockheed Martin for F-35 work.
After the first aircraft arrives on base in July, the work schedule increases drastically, Fennell said. By the end of the year, FRC East is expected to have two stalls available for work on F-35s, which should increase to five by the end of 2014.
In the long term, FRC East will do work on the jet’s auxiliary power units.
"We will be the only depot assigned to do that work for all variants of the F-35, and we do have a capability establishment team aggressively working on being ready for that workload, which is probably three years out," Fennell said.
Ultimately, the plan is for FRC East to be handling all lift fan work on the F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter.
Money for that multi-million dollar project may not be funded before fiscal year 2020, FRC East officials said.
"That is something that we originally tried to get in fiscal year 12 and fiscal year 14 and it continues to push out," Fennell said, "so that is one component capability that we are anxious to get and we are continuing to work on getting that (contract) through so we can move toward capability establishment for that."