An F-35 C from Squadron VFA 147, the Argonauts, takes off during training exercises at Naval Air Station Lemoore.
An F-35 C from Squadron VFA 147, the Argonauts, takes off during training exercises at Naval Air Station Lemoore.
Photo Courtesy U.S. Navy

The Navy’s latest fighter jet appears to have cleared one of its final hurdles as it begins the long process of transitioning from the venerable F/A-18 Hornet. The F-35C Lightning II received interim clearance for “safe-for-flight” operations certification on Oct. 23, a significant milestone prepping the way for Initial Operating Capability early next year.

With its stealth technology, advanced sensors, weapons capacity, and range, the F-35C will be the first 5th generation aircraft operated from an aircraft carrier. Currently, the U.S. Navy F-35C program expects the new jet to begin operating capability by the end of February 2019. 

The interim “safe-for-flight” operations certification is the process that ensures a squadron is staffed by qualified personnel to implement the fleet’s maintenance and safety programs.  All transitioning squadrons are required to complete this certification before beginning flight operations.  Once the squadron has independently completed carrier operations, they will receive the full safe-for-flight operations certifications.

Naval Air Station Lemoore’s Strike Fighter Squadron VFA 147, known as the Argonauts, is the first squadron to receive training in the new jet. The Navy’s training squadron, VFA-125, the “Rough Raiders” were re-activated in 2017 to help with the training and transition.

Since completing their combat deployment last winter, VFA-147 has been working with the Rough Raiders to accomplish the safe-for-flight operations certification.  The Argonauts will be able to operate independently from the Rough Raiders, having received the interim clearance safe-for-flight operations certification.  The squadron is scheduled to complete its carrier qualifications later this year.

“Since we returned from deployment last December, our team has been driving toward fully bringing this platform online for the Navy," said VFA-147 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Patrick Corrigan. “As the Argonauts close out 2018 and the final stages of our safe-for-flight certification, we continue to exhibit the relentless drive required to meet transition goals and milestones.  With this certification, we are announcing that we have the right skills, training, and people to take this mission and execute it, to its fullest potential.”

The interim “safe-for-flight” operations certification encompasses areas such as equipment, personnel, and programs.  Not least among them is the requirement for the squadron to be in the physical custody of at least 30 percent of the assigned aircraft.  Other conditions include the installation and operation of management information systems needed to support the squadron. 

There is also a requirement for Operational F-35C squadrons to maintain robust, on-track, maintenance programs, as well as complete inspections ranging from conventional weapons technical proficiencies to safety. 

“The Argonauts’ safe-for-flight operations certification was earned through the herculean effort of squadron Sailors and is an acknowledgment that they have developed the skills to safely maintain and operate the F-35C Lightning II,” said Joint Strike Fighter Wing Commander, Capt. Max McCoy.  “We eagerly look forward to declaring IOC and integrating the F-35C into the Carrier Strike Group.  This aircraft is a key component to maintaining the U.S. Navy’s dominance anywhere in the world.”