'Black Knights' gain Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification

The USMC’s first Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VMFA-314) ‘Black Knights’, has received its Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification (SFFOC).

The squadron has spent more than five months undergoing transition training from the F/A-18C/D Hornet to the F-35C Lightning II. During this time, the ‘Black Knights’ operated under the oversight of Strike Fighter Squadron 125 (VFA-125) ‘Rough Raiders’ – the US Navy’s F-35C fleet replacement unit – at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California. VMFA-314 returned to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California, from its temporary relocation at the base in January.

'Black Knights' F-35C SFFOC [US Navy - Lt Cdr Darin Russell] #1
The first VMFA-314 'Black Knights' F-35C Lightning II flies in formation with one of the squadron's legacy Hornets in June 2019. US Navy/Lt Cdr Darin Russell

Confirmation of the VMFA-314’s latest milestone came on March 20, with the unit having enough qualified personnel to perform maintenance and safety programmes in support of fleet operations. All squadrons transitioning to the F-35C will be required to complete SFFOC prior to being able to independently conduct flight operations.

When speaking on March 20, Lt Col Cedar Hinton, commanding officer of VMFA-314, praised the achievement, saying it represented years of hard work and co-ordination between the USMC and naval aviation. He said: “The ‘Black Knights’ have met or exceeded every challenge faced during this transition, and I am extremely proud to be a part of this fantastic squadron.

“Today’s achievement marks a significant milestone and the beginning of a new chapter in our storied legacy. The F-35C advances our capability well into the next generation of fighter-attack aircraft and will keep our squadron, and our service, relevant for decades to come.”

'Black Knights' F-35C SFFOC [US Navy - Lt Cdr Darin Russell] #2
US Navy/Lt Cdr Darin Russell

To pass the SFFOC process, a unit is required to install and operate management information systems and accompanying support networks. It must also maintain a robust maintenance programme and complete various inspections, including conventional weapons technical proficiencies and safety. The squadron’s personnel also need to complete a transition curriculum and maintain specific competencies in accordance with naval air training, along with operating procedures and standardisation guidelines.

The USMC already operates the Lightning II, in the form of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capable F-35B. The ‘C’ variant has been designed to operate conventionally from land bases and aircraft carriers. VMFA-314’s F-35Cs will operate from US Navy aircraft carriers, being integrated into carrier air wings (CVWs), alongside their naval counterparts.