While the F-35B isn’t getting the best of press lately, the advanced stealth fighter is clearly still a force to be reconned with and a vital part of the U.S. Marine Corps.
F-35B Can Do It All
The Air Force isn’t the only branch conducting elephant walks. The Marine Corps is also entirely capable of conducting elephant walks – as demonstrated on May 1, 2019, at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, when 20 F-35B Lightning II taxing and took off in unison.
The F-35B USMC Elephant Walk
“The safe launch and recovery of the aircraft, affirms the squadron’s commitment to achieving and sustaining the highest level of readiness in order to train the next generation of F-35B pilots from the U.S. Marine Corps and partner nations,” the USMC said in a statement.
An elephant walk is just that – a training exercise, and a show of force, meant to show rival nations what the US is capable of. In taxing and taking off en mass, the USMC is able to train. Not just the pilots, but the maintainers and intelligence officers and the rest of the sprawling support network. Launching multiple jets simultaneously requires the entire squadron to participate, to be sharp. Everyone has to contribute in order to pull the elephant walk off. And in doing so, a message is sent to other countries, that the US is uniquely powerful. The ability to line up 20 fifth-generation fighters on the runway at once is an ability few nations have; the elephant walk serves to remind others that the US has that ability.
Elephant walks are more closely associated with the Air Force. But the USMC’s VMAT 501 conducted the impressive 20-ship elephant walk.
“VMAT 501 is a training squadron reportedly equipped with 20 F-35B Lightning II aircraft and serves as the Fleet Replacement Squadron,” The Aviationist reported. “Known as “Warlords,” the squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina since 2014 and falls administratively under Marine Aircraft Group 31 and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.” Each aircraft assigned to VMAT 501 took part in the 2019 elephant walk.
VMAT 501’s elephant walk came at a time, 2019, when the US was struggling to demonstrate that the F-35 had been worth the investment, and were capable of operating as intended. In 2019, all three of the US military branches who operated the F-35 were “struggling to achieve acceptable availability rates across the Lightning II fleet.”
“In October 2018, Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered the service to ensure that 80 percent of all F-35s, as well as other types of tactical jets, are FMC (Fully Mission Capable) at any time by the end of ,” the Aviationist reported.
Back then, Mattis’s order was pressing; in the Summer and Fall of 2018, only 27 percent of F-35 fighters worldwide were Fully Mission Capable according to the Government Accountability Office.
The jet used in the VMAT 501 elephant walk, the F-35B, is perhaps the most distinct variant of the fifth-generation F-35. The B-variant is equipped with VSTOL abilities, much like the Harriet jump jet, which the Marine Corps has long operated. Like the Harrier, the F-35B can take off and land vertically, and perform short takeoffs, allowing the jet access in hard-to-reach places – ideal for the needs of the Marine Corps.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.