Warlords Series 2: The Transition from Eglin to Beaufort

By Robbin Laird

In a story which we first published on July 12, 2014, we highlighted the transition of the Warlords from Eglin AFB to Beaufort MCAS.

2014-07-12 While the press focuses on the F-35B landing vertically (amazing press out there!), Lt. Col. “OD” Bachman and the squadron is moving from Eglin to MCAS Beaufort where the F-35B partners will train as well in the future.

Italians, British and other nations who acquire the B will come to Beaufort to train.

We visited the Warlords last September with Secretary Wynne, and talked on a earlier visit with “OD” as well.

OD Bachmann after 200th F-35 Sortie in August 2012. The plane has more than 500 sorties as of November 2012. Credit Photo: SLD
OD Bachmann after 200th F-35 Sortie in August 2012. Credit Photo: Second Line of Defense

Progress is evident throughout the F-35B program.

We noted earlier based on discussions with MAWTS:

The squadron is being shaped for its inclusion into the Marine Corps air role via its working relationship with MAWTS. According to one MAWTS officer and F-35 pilot, the advantage of MAWTS and VMFA 121 working together is crucial for the evolution of the way ahead.

We have developed the infrastructure and process for the standardization of the F-35B within the USMC. We can do this by working directly with the only operational fleet squadron. We can take that forward to future squadrons as they are stood up. We build out a standardized approach.

And we can introduce the rest of the USMC who participates in the exercises at MAWTS about the capabilities of the F-35 and how those capabilities can change how the MAGTF can operate. We can show battalion Marines on the ground how this aircraft is going to enhance their operational capabilities.

The current planes are operating with Block 2A software and the Block 2B software arrives later this year for the preparation for the IOC in 2015. What this means is that the plane operating today with MAWTS is more limited than what will come later in the year. While Block 2B is largely a software upgrade, there are some planned hardware mods as well.

According to a story in the local TV station WTOC:

About 180 Marines will make the transition from Eglin Air Force Base down in the Florida panhandle back to Beaufort to be part of the F35B program.

The VMFAT-501 Warlords were previously stationed at MCAS Beaufort from 1963 to 1997 under its former title as “Marine Fighter Squadron 451.”

“A humbling experience to be so welcomed here in Beaufort and being the first chapter of the F35 in the state of South Carolina in Beaufort…a lot of pressure to succeed! We’re really planning on making sure the F35 is successful for the Marine Corps and successful in our hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina,” Lieutenana Colonel Ty Bachmann said.

The F35B is the world’s first Supersonic aircraft with the capability of short take off vertical landing, or STOVL.

“So not only can we cruise at supersonic speed, our stealth encoding allows us to get closer to the enemy without him knowing and then recovery back aboard ship for the Marine Corps or at austere landing sights,” Bachmann said.

It’s been years of hard work from campaigning for the fighter jet to building this hangar. That amounts to more jobs and money poured into the local economy.

“To take care of parking the aircraft, working on the aircraft, that all requires a huge amount of labor, given the longevity of this program, it’s going to be here for a long time,” Major General Robert Hedelund, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing said.

Beaufort is slated to receive at least two training squadrons and two operational ones. VM-FAT 501 will eventually receive 25 F35B jets with a total of 300 Marines dedicated to the program.

Beaufort will be the only training ground for the F35B which won’t just be used for America’s national defense.

“This has been developed for an international community, the joint part of this aircraft is allowing it to do surveillance as well as sort of air to air attack and ground attack as well so it’s a multi-purpose aircraft which makes it the most useful aircraft that we as the UK can look to purchase,” Beth Kitchen, Senior Engineering Officer, VMFAT-501 UK Detachment said.

The first F35B is scheduled to arrive in Beaufort within the next two weeks.

And in a piece by Matt McNab published in The Beaufort Gazette on July 11, 2014:

After 17 years away from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the Warlords have come home.

In a ceremony Friday, officials from the air station and Beaufort County welcomed personnel from VMFAT-501, the F-35B training squadron that will begin flying at the air station in October.

Known as the Warlords, VMFAT-501 is a reactivated version of VMFA-451, an attack squadron stationed at MCAS Beaufort from 1963 until its deactivation in 1997.

The squadron was reactivated under the VMFAT-501 name in 2010 to begin F-35B training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Beaufort County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville said Friday’s ceremony was “welcoming back an old friend.” A Beaufort County native, Sommerville reminisced in his remarks to the audience about the squadron flying F-4 Phantoms over Beaufort.

“The old joke was that you could never hang anything on the wall,” he said. “The pilots liked to hit the afterburner flying over town.”

The celebration drew between 2,500 and 3,000 people, said Jaime Dailey-Vergara, spokeswoman for the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce.

“The crowd was a great testament to the support our community has for our military families,” she said.

About half of the 300 Marines in the unit were on hand for the welcoming ceremony, while the other half will maintain operations in Florida, said Lt. Col. Joseph Bachmann, the squadron’s commanding officer…..

While many members of the new squadron were present, the F-35Bs haven’t yet arrived. Bachmann said the first Joint Strike Fighter is expected to be delivered sometime next week.

The ceremony was in a hangar that VMFAT-501 will use for F-35B maintenance.

Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commander of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, of which the air station is a part, presented Bachmann with an artist’s rendering of the hangar as the ceremony ended.

Bachmann said after the ceremony that he and his squadron were excited to be back on a Marine base after spending the last four years at an Air Force installation. Asked about noise from the new jets, Bachmann said it would be comparable to the F-18s that now fly at MCAS Beaufort.

“It’s no different than the noise from the current jets,” he said. “It might be a different sound, but it’s not a higher decibel. We plan on being good stewards of the community.”

Sommerville said he didn’t expect complaints about jet noise to rise after the F-35Bs begin flying.

“There’s always going to be some noise, but there’s no reason to think noise complaints will go up,” he said. “We’ll always deal with it, whatever it is.”

Bachmann said he expects the squadron to have 25 jets at full strength. Two attack squadrons and one other training squadron will also call the air station home alongside VMFAT-501…..

The featured photo shows Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Commanding General, welcoming the Warlords of VMFAT-501 back to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort during a July 11, 2014, homecoming ceremony. Credit Photo: JAY KARR