U.S. Marine Corps Hornets and Lightnings in the Carolina skies.
One of the major air bases of the U.S. Marine Corps is located in South Carolina. And this base does justice to its nickname “Fightertown East”: Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort hosts all the Marines F‑18 Hornet squadrons on the East Coast of the U.S. and is also home of one F‑35 Lightning II squadron. All these units are under command of Marine Aircraft Group 31 (MAG‑31), which is part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. MAG‑31's mission is to execute anti‑air warfare and offensive air support operations in support of Fleet Marine Forces from land‑based prepared airfields, expeditionary airfields (EAF) and they may also be sea‑based, operating from the deck of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers.
Beaufort F/A‑18s: models and missions
There are about 10 aircraft in each squadron, and a total of three Hornet versions can be seen on the ramps. The F‑18A++ is used by VMFA‑115 Silver Eagles. Three squadrons fly the C‑ model: VMFA‑122 Werewolves, VMFA‑251 Thunderbolts, and VMFA‑312 Checkerboards. The Werewolves were formerly known as Crusaders, but for political reasons they changed their name once it was known they had to deploy to Iraq. Two all‑weather attack squadrons fly the D model: VMFA(AW)‑224 Flying Bengals and VMFA(AW)‑533 Hawks. USMC Hornet squadrons conduct the following missions: Offensive/Defensive Counter Air, Close Air Support, Armed Reconnaissance, Strike Coordination, and Suppression of Enemy Air Defense.
F‑35 Lightning II
A total of 353 F‑35Bs and 67 F‑35Cs are ordered the Marines. MCAS Beaufort was chosen to facilitate the training of the F‑35B in favor of nearby MCAS Cherry Point as the base is currently better suited to accommodate the F‑35B for training and security purposes. VMFAT‑ 501 Warlords fulfills the training role since 2010. Initially at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, but since July 2014 aboard MCAS Beaufort. The squadron serves as the F‑35B Lightning II Fleet Replacement Squadron. Until a second training squadron is established, VMFAT-501 is the only F‑35B training unit within the Marine Corps and responsible for training all pilots for the future F-35B squadrons in the U.S. Department of Defense.
Our full report can be found in the February 2016 issue of Air International and in the April 2016 issue of Full Stop Magazine