Another First at Eglin

The Marine Corps on April 2 activated the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 at Eglin AFB, Fla., where it will train pilots in the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant under Air Education and Training Command’s 33rd Fighter Wing at the joint F-35 schoolhouse. This marked the first time a marine unit has been embedded with a USAF wing, which already gained USMC Col. Arthur Tomassetti last fall as deputy wing commander and Navy Capt. Mike Saunders last summer as 33rd Operations Group deputy commander. Despite the F-35 restructure announced in February, Air Force senior leaders have said the Pentagon plans to provide early delivery of F-35 training assets. VMFAT-501 expects to receive its first STOVL aircraft this fall, as does the 33rd FW for the first F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant. (Now vintage 2008 briefing charts pegged first F-35A CTOL arrival in March 2010.) (Eglin report by Samuel King Jr.)