MARINE COPRS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
The Marine Corps’ second fleet squadron to operate the F-35C Lightning II was declared “Safe for Flight,” at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, September 13, 2023. The Safe for Flight certification means that Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 311, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, has the maintenance programs, processes, and trained Marines in place to independently conduct flight operations.
Known as the “Tomcats,” VMFA-311 worked for five months alongside the Marine Corps’ first F-35C squadron, VMFA-314, to develop standard operating procedures and build a foundation of safety.
“A lot of our personnel came from 314, so the mentorship was there,” said Maj. Dustin “Dusty” Oakes, VMFA-311 Aircraft Maintenance Officer. “We’re using their experience to build an effective product.”
MAG-11 Commanding Officer, Col. William “Skull” Mitchell, explained the importance of VMFA-311’s Safe for Flight certification for the MAG, Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and joint force.
“The Marine Corps is committed to fielding and deploying lethal capabilities to compete with, deter, and if necessary, defeat potential adversaries,” Mitchell said. “This week, VMFA-311 achieved their Safe for Flight certification, furthering that commitment and doubling the fifth-generation combat power within MAG-11. Now, more than ever, MAG-11 stands ready to provide superior and overwhelming aviation combat power to I MEF and the joint force.”
To ensure squadrons are ready to support the Marine Corps mission, the Aviation Logistics Management Assist Team (ALMAT) provides support for material condition inspections and aviation maintenance evaluations. These inspections help to identify potential safety hazards and ensure aircraft safety.
“ALMAT conducted a program evaluation aboard the Air Station,” Oakes said. “They also inspected our requirements for the safety management system, and squadron standard operating procedures.”
Since April, the Tomcats have built 37 maintenance and safety programs, all of which have been approved by ALMAT. These programs include maintenance control, material control, HAZMAT (hazardous materials) and support equipment, among others. Implementing these programs, Marines are empowered to conduct maintenance tasks, identify potential hazards, participate in training and education programs, and ensure compliance with safety regulations and standards. Oakes attributes ALMAT’s satisfaction to “brilliance in the basics.”
“It was keeping things simple and focusing on readiness. We succeeded because everyone did their specific job,” Oakes said.
Based at MCAS Miramar, VMA-311 was deactivated in 2020 as an AV-8B Harrier squadron. As part of modernization efforts, the squadron reactivated as an F-35C squadron in April 2023. The F-35C is the “carrier variant” of the F-35, designed to operate from aircraft carriers or land bases and provide operational maneuverability and persistence to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
VMFA-311’s Safe for Flight certification primes the squadron to train toward its next milestone, Initial Operating Capability (IOC). IOC builds on the Safe for Flight foundation and signifies that a unit has received all its allotted assets and is basically deployable. Declaration of the squadron’s IOC is projected for FY24, according to the Marine Corps Aviation Plan.
“I’m incredibly proud of this group of Marines–from the Staff Noncommissioned Officers, down to work center supervisors, down to the PFC [private first class],” Oakes said. “These Marines want to be here. They want to be excellent at what they do, and they have a great opportunity to build something from the ground up.”