Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II
Length: 51.5 ft (15.7 m)
Wingspan: 43 ft (13.1 m)
Height: 14.7 ft (4.48 m)
Empty weight: 34,581 lb (15,686 kg)
Gross weight: 49,540 lb (22,471 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 70,000 lb (31,800 kg)
Fuel capacity: 19,750 lb (8,958 kg) internal
Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 afterburning turbofan, 28,000 lbf (125 kN) thrust dry, 43,000 lbf (191 kN)
Maximum speed: Mach 1.6 at altitude
Range: 1,200 nmi (1,381 mi, 2,200 km)
Combat range: 670 nmi (771 mi, 1,241 km) on internal fuel
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)
Radar: AN/APG-81 AESA radar
With a F/A-18F Super Hornet ready to head out to the runway at Lemoore on a Friday afternoon, a couple of 'Brown Shirts' from VFA-2 exchange pleasantries on the flightline. Brown shirts are most notably worn by Plane Captains, who are responsible for the safety and integrity of the aircraft, including the pre-flight and post-flight preparation. Plane Captains also man the cockpit during repositioning of the aircraft on the flight deck and hangar deck, also overseeing the maintenance, launch, recovery and general well-being of their aircraft. The adage is that the plane captain is the one who truly 'owns the jet', and the pilot just borrows it for a couple of hours when they fly it!.
We would like to thank everyone at NAS Lemoore for their hospitality and co-operation during our visit, particularly those at VFA-122 and the other squadrons who allowed us to photograph their aircraft. We would like to thank particularly Ms. Jessica Nillson at Lemoore Public Affairs, as without her help from the get go, this article would not have been possible.
NAS Lemoore's Search and Rescue unit has a team of four Sikorsky MH-60S helicopters, 10 pilots, 10 Rescue crewmen and four SAR Medical Technicians (SMT’s). Known as the Wranglers, the pilots and aircrew are highly trained in both over-water and mountain rescue, including helicopter rappel, hoist, and high-altitude mountain landings – conducting day or night operations with their night vision goggle (NVG) capability. The Wranglers primary mission is to be the first responder for the aircraft and personnel stationed at NAS Lemoore. Secondary to that, is to work closely with local agencies in
VFA-192 'Golden Dragons' is an F/A-18E squadron attached to Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2). The squadron traces its roots back to 1945, just before the end of World War II, when VF-153 was established on March 26th at NAS Atlantic City. The squadron is now home-based at NAS Lemoore, and transitioned to the F/A-18E Super Hornet in July 2013, with the arrival of their first 'Rhinos'.
with Strike Fighter Squadron 125 (VFA-125), the F-35 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). Since then, the multi-role joint strike fighter has started to re-equip frontline units, with VFA-147 ‘Argonauts’ being the first. The radar-absorbent material that coats the F-35C is just one element of its enhanced survivability.
In service since 2001, the Block II Super Hornet incorporated an AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, improved sensors and avionics, increased range, and the capability to employ an arsenal of precision weapons – earning it a reputation as the backbone of the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing (CVW). The first operational cruise with VFA-115 onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), took place in July 2002, and the final F/A-18E/F Block II production aircraft was delivered in April 2020.
The Super Hornet is equipped with seven under-wing pylons, a single centreline station, and one on each wing-tip. It retains the nose-mounted internal 20mm M61 rotary cannon from the legacy Hornet, whilst the F/A-18Fs can also be equipped with an A/A42R-5 buddy-buddy air-to-air refuelling pod.
The Flying Eagles of VFA-122 are pretty unique, in that unlike frontline squadrons in the U.S. Navy, they fly both the E and F-versions of the Super Hornet
The Flying Eagles were established in January 1991 as Strike Fighter Squadron 122 (VFA-122), and since February 2016 has been operating the Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet, with over 80 aircraft on strength. The Super Hornet is the backbone of the Navy’s carrier-based fleet of aircraft, capable across the full mission spectrum: air superiority, fighter escort, reconnaissance, aerial refuelling, close air support, air defence suppression, and day/night precision strike.
The Navy’s first four Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft arrived at Naval Air Station Lemoore on 25 January 2017, to take up residence with Strike Fighter Squadron 125 (VFA-125), the F-35 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). Since then, the multi-role joint strike fighter has started to re-equip frontline units, with VFA-147 ‘Argonauts’ being the first.
VFA-154 'Black Knights' is an F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron attached to Carrier Air Wing Eleven (CVW-11). In 1991 it became the Navy's first forward deployed F-14 Tomcat squadron, stationed in Atsugi, Japan. In 2003, the Black Knights left Atsugi and was re-designated VFA-154, transitioning to the F/A-18F Super Hornet. After the disestablishment of CVW-14, the Black Knights switched to CVW-11 in 2012.
Most, if not all squadrons within the U.S. Navy fly a CAG-bird, a specially painted aircraft officially flown by the commanding officer of Carrier Air Groups (CAG). Every carrier-based aircraft squadron of the United States Navy has such an aircraft that wears a modex (part of the Aircraft Visual Identification System) usually ending with the numbers '00'. Their striking paint schemes make them stand out from the standard run of the mill grey schemes worn by most aircraft, with aircraft enthusiasts and aircraft photographers alike showing great interest in the aircraft, always hoping to 'catch' one. Here's a few of the F/A-18s we saw during our visit to the west coast.
Generally speaking, a CVW is made up of three Strike Fighter (VFA) Squadrons, with twelve F/A-18E/F Super Hornets each; a typical mix being two F/A-18E and one F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron. However, with the introduction of the F-35C, a squadron of Lightning IIs may replace one of the F/A-18E squadrons; which on a recent cruise by CVW-9 involved a U.S. Marine Corps unit (VMFA-314). Also on strength is one Electronic Attack (VAQ) Squadron, made up of five EA-18G Growlers, with four E-2C Hawkeyes or E-2D Advanced
VFA-125 was re-activated again at NAS Lemoore on 12 January 2017 as the west coast FRS for the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II, receiving its first aircraft on 25 January 2017. VFA-125’s mission as the West Coast F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron is to train the Navy’s F-35 Pilots, learning the basics of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, culminating in day/night carrier qualification before assignment to a frontline F-35 squadron.
Located across Kings County and Fresno County, California, Naval Air Station Lemoore is the U.S. Navy’s newest and largest Master Jet Base. Commissioned in July 1961, the remote location was chosen because of several key strategic factors. Firstly, the ability to provide it with logistical support from the Navy’s seaport facilities in California; secondly, the ability to perform unencumbered flight operations due to the lack of major population centres in the area, which is primarily agricultural; and thirdly, the potential for future infrastructure growth of the base.
VFA-147 Argonauts was the first frontline until to re-equip with the F-35C Lightning II
LEMOORE 'CAG BIRDS'
United States Navy "Master Jet Base"
NAS Lemoore SAR
VFA-14 'Top Hatters' is an F/A-18E Super Hornet strike fighter squadron attached to Carrier Air Wing Nine (CVW-9). Flying the single-seat Super Hornet, VFA-14 is the Navy's oldest active squadron, having formed in 1919. Since its inception, the squadron has flown 23 different types of aircraft, had its designation changed 14 times, and operated from 20 different aircraft carriers, and also a number of battleships.
with the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers providing the adaptability to support the U.S. Navy’s "Air Wing of the Future.” Blending platforms that can deny and defeat air and surface-based threats, including manned and unmanned platforms with vastly improved range and speed, these weapons, sensors and networks will provide advanced, carrier-based capabilities that extend the range of the Carrier Strike Group.
Designed to replace the Navy's current carriers on a
Fleet Replacement Squadrons
Once the domain of ‘single role’ aircraft such as the mighty Grumman F-14 Tomcat and the A-6 Intruder, the multi-role F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler now crowd the decks of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers, providing the backbone around which the Navy’s Air Wings will be structured well into 2030 and beyond. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and the carrier air wing continue to evolve,
VFA-151 'Vigilantes' is an F/A-18E Super Hornet strike fighter squadron attached to Carrier Air Wing Nine (CVW-9). In total, four different U.S. Navy squadrons have been designated VF-151. In 1948, what would become VFA-151 was established as VF-23 at NAS Oceana, VA. The squadron transitioned to the E-version of the Super Hornet in February 2013.
A Flying Eagles F/A-18E thunders out of NAS Lemoore for a morning mission, the afterburners on its General Electric F414 engines in full flow
In July 1998, NAS Lemoore was selected as the West Coast site for the Navy's newest strike-fighter aircraft, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which saw approximately 92 additional aircraft and 1,850 additional active-duty personnel move in, with a further four new fleet squadrons arriving between 2001 and 2004. Today, Lemoore is home to Commander Strike Fighter Wing Pacific (CSFWP), and Commander Joint Strike Fighter Wing (CJSFW), with in excess of 230 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II based here, hosting 16 operational Strike Fighter Squadrons, two Fleet Replacement Squadrons, and one Search and Rescue Squadron, together with four Carrier Air Wing Commands.
VFA-122's CAG-bird is seen powering out of NAS Fallon whilst on a detachment at the Nevada base
A F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-154 taxi's back to the ramp at Lemoore
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet
The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet entered service with the U.S. Navy in 1999, as a replacement for the F-14 Tomcat. The single-seat F/A-18E and the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet are highly capable across the full mission spectrum: air superiority, fighter escort, reconnaissance, aerial refuelling, close air support, air defence suppression, day/night precision strike, Forward Air Controller, and aerial tanking. An updated version of the F-18C/D Hornet, the Super Hornet features a 20% larger airframe, which carries 33% more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41% and endurance by 50% over the original Hornet. Additionally, the General Electric F414 engine develops 35% additional thrust over most of the aircraft's flight envelope when compared to the earlier legacy models.
VFA-2 'Bounty Hunters' is an F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighter squadron. Their tail code is NE and their callsign is "Bullet." The Bounty Hunters are attached to Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2), a composite unit made up of an array of aircraft performing a variety of combat and support missions that deploy aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). The F/A-18F Super Hornet is fully capable in both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
CVW-2 Coded NE
VFA-2 F/A-18F Bounty Hunters
VFA-97 F-35C Warhawks
VFA-113 F/A-18E Stingers
VFA-147 F-35C Argonauts
VFA-192 F/A-18E Golden Dragons
CVW-9 Coded NG
VFA-14 F/A-18E Tophatters
VFA-41 F/A-18F Black Aces
VFA-151 F/A-18E Vigilantes
CVW-11 Coded NH
VFA-25 F/A-18E Fist of the Fleet
VFA-146 F/A-18E Blue Diamonds
VFA-154 F/A-18F Black Knights
CVW-17 Coded NA
VFA-22 F/A-18F Fighting Redcocks
VFA-94 F/A-18F Mighty Shrikes
VFA-137 F/A-18E Kestrels
Able to carry almost 20,000lbs of internal fuel, the F-35C has a range in excess of 1200 nautical miles, enabling pilots to fly further and remain in the battlespace for longer - although its range and loiter time can be extended with the aircraft’s air-to-air refuelling capability. The F-35C can carry more than 5,000lbs of weapons internally, and 18,000lbs of combined internal and external weapons, allowing the aircraft to operate in stealth mode, or increase its capabilities with additional weapons externally when the air space is permissive. The C-model has the largest wingspan and most robust landing gear of all F-35 variants, the design of the wings and landing gear making it suitable for catapult launches and arrested landings aboard aircraft carriers.
one-for-one basis, they will eventually take the place of the existing Nimitz-class ships. The Ford-class vessels introduce technologies such as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), as well as other design features intended to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs, including sailing with smaller crews. The first ship of the class, Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), was commissioned into service on 22 July 2017. During our visit to Lemoore, not all the CVW's and squadrons were at home, and so it was not possible to photograph every unit based there - the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) was at sea with CVW-17 on board, whilst some of CVW-9's aircraft were at NAS Fallon on a post-cruise Refresher Course (see our report from NAS Fallon). Below are just a few images of the squadrons that were in situ that we were able to photograph.
Embedded sensors, internal fuel, and weapons capacity, aligned edges, and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes all contribute to the F-35’s unique Very Low Observable stealth performance, enabling pilots to evade enemy detection and operate in anti-access and contested environments, improving the aircraft's lethality and survivability. With its Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Distributed Aperture System (DAS), Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) and Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS), the pilot can see everything in the battlespace with unprecedented situational awareness. The F-35C can also operate as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, and battle manager, sharing information to all networked ground, sea, and air assets.
The F-35C is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, bringing transformational capability to the United States and its allies. Missions traditionally performed by specialized aircraft (air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, electronic attack, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s. For the first time in aviation history, stealth capability comes to the carrier deck, the F-35C setting new standards in weapon system integration, lethality, maintainability, combat radius and payload that bring true multi-mission power projection at sea.
Also based at NAS Lemoore are two Fleet Replacement Squadrons, one for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, and one for the F-35C Lightning II. Here we take a look at both squadrons, their aircraft, and their roles.
VFA-122 operates a small fleet of three Beech T-34C Turbomentor, single-engine turbo-prop aircraft. On the day of our visit, two of the aircraft had set off early morning for a cross-country flight down to NAS El Centro, leaving just this example on the squadron ramp. The T-34 was derived from the civilian Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft, with some 2,300 being built for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to provide basic flying training. Over the years the aircraft has trained thousands of pilots for both services, before finally being replaced by the Beech T-6 Texan II. The VFA-122 aircraft are used by instructors to clear bombing ranges, and as a safety aircraft during dive-bombing training.
The Argonauts of VFA-147 have a strong tradition of pride and professionalism that dates back to their beginnings as an A-7 squadron. Attack Squadron 147 was commissioned as the Navy's first A-7E Corsair II squadron on 1 February 1967 at Lemoore, and was the first operational F-35C squadron in the United States Navy. It is still only one of two frontline Lightning II squadrons at Lemoore, alongside VFA-97 Warhawks.
Hawkeyes; one Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) Squadron of eight MH-60S Seahawks; one Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) Squadron of eleven MH-60R Seahawks, 3–5 of which are typically based in detachments on other ships of the carrier strike group; and a Fleet Logistics Support (VRC) Squadron Detachment of two C-2A Greyhounds, or a VRM squadron operating the new Bell-Boeing CMV-22B Osprey (which is replacing the C-2 Greyhound).
The Carrier Air Wing
The VFA-125 Rough Raiders is the Fleet Replacement Squadron for the F-35C Lightning II. It was established at NAS Lemoore on 13 November 1980, becoming the Navy's first F/A-18 Hornet squadron, receiving its first aircraft in April 1981. On 1 October 2010, VFA-125 was deactivated and its aircraft and personnel were merged into VFA-122. The merger was intended to cut administrative costs and streamline training in anticipation of the replacement of the F/A-18 Hornet by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the F-35 Lightning II.
In the photo right, an F/A-18E from VFA-122 is towed to the flightline at Lemoore under the watchful eye of the ground crews. The Blue Shirts are the most predominant crew on the flight deck of any aircraft carrier, operating motorized gear such as tractors and forklifts, chocking and chaining aircraft to the flight deck, and operating the carrier's aircraft elevators.
The Red Shirt ordnance men load aircraft with all the weapons - bombs, missiles, mines and ammunition. They also make up the crash and salvage teams responsible for aircraft firefighting, rescue, and salvage operations.
VFA-41 'Black Aces' is an F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron attached to Carrier Air Wing Nine (CVW-9). In December 2001 it transitioned from the F-14 Tomcat, becoming the first operational F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron, and officially adopting the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) moniker. The F/A-18F is highly capable across the full mission spectrum; air superiority, fighter escort, reconnaissance, aerial refuelling, close air support, air defense suppression, and day/night precision strike.
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet
Crew: F/A-18E: 1 (Pilot), F/A-18F: 2 (Pilot & Weapons Systems Operator)
Length: 60ft 1.25in (18.31m)
Wingspan: 44ft 8.5in (13.62m)
Height: 16ft 0in (4.88m)
Empty weight: 32,081lb (14,552kg)
Gross weight: 47,000lb (21,320kg)
Max take-off weight: 66,000lb (29,937kg)
Internal fuel capacity: F/A-18E: 14,700lb (6,667kg), F/A-18F: 13,760lb (6,241kg)
Powerplant: 2 × General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans, 13,000lb thrust each dry, 22,000lb with afterburner
Maximum speed: 1,190 mph (1,915 km/h, Mach 1.6) at 40,000 ft (12,190 m)
Range: 1,275 Nautical Miles (1,458 mi, 2,346 km) with armament of two AIM-9s
Combat Range: 444 Nmi (511 mi, 822 km) combat radius for interdiction with 4 x 1,000 pounds (450 kg) bombs, 2x AIM-9s, and 2 x 480-gallon drop tanks
Service ceiling: 52,300ft (15,940 m)
Radar: Hughes APG-73 or Raytheon APG-79 AESA radar
Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II
The F-35C is the naval version of Lockheed Martin’s Lightning II aircraft, the first and world’s only long-range stealth strike fighter designed and built explicitly for carrier operations. The F-35C has a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 even with a full internal weapons load, giving it a higher top speed than legacy fighters, since it does not have the drag associated with those aircraft from their external fuel tanks and weapon loads.
The Navy's first four F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft arrived at Naval Air Station Lemoore on 25 February 2017 to take up residence
VFA-113 'Stingers' is an F/A-18E Super Hornet strike fighter squadron attached to Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW-2). With the motto of "First and Finest", VFA-113 was commissioned 15 July 1948. In late 2015, the squadron transitioned to the F/A-18E Super Hornet, which at the time were some of the newest and most capable 'Rhinos' in the fleet.
The squadron CAG-bird head's a line of VFA-41 Black Aces at NAS Lemoore.
Operating the F/A-18F, the squadron is part of Carrier Air Wing Nine
The Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and its associate carriers will provide the U.S. Navy with its "Air Wing of the Future."
Four Carrier Air Wings (CVW) are home-based at NAS Lemoore (CVW-2, CVW-9, CVW-11, CVW-17); with the west-coast based F/A-18E/F Super Hornet squadrons also located here, along with the F-35 Lightning squadrons, which slowly continue to grow in number. Consisting of the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, Bell-Boeing CMV-22B Osprey, Boeing MQ-25A Stingray, Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk, and the Sikorsky MH-60S Seahawk, the Navy has already begun integrating the Air Wing of the Future onto its aircraft carriers.
In the image left, a 'fresh out the box' F/A-18E Block III Super Hornet seen on the ramp at Lemoore. The Block III upgrade delivers increased service life of 10,000 flight hours and reduced radar signature, accompanied by a new avionics suite that brings the Common Tactical Picture into the cockpit; an advanced cockpit system, with large touchscreen displays for improved user interface; and more powerful computing through the Distributed Targeting Processor Network (DTP-N), and Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) data-link.
Of note is that all F/A-18 Super Hornet squadrons fly either the E-model or the F-model, not a mix of both sub-types; the E's generally flying air defence missions and air interdiction, whilst the F's primary role is air-to-ground missions, and to some extent air-to-air refuelling missions, although they are also more than capable in the air-to-air role.
As the West Coast Super Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron, VFA-122’s mission is to train F/A-18E/F Pilots and Weapon Systems Officers (WSOs) to support fleet commitments, with some 60 aircraft assigned to the squadron. Every 6 weeks, a class of 8–12 newly winged Navy Pilots and Naval Flight Officers (NFO) begin their 9-month training course, in which they learn the basics of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, culminating in day/night Carrier Qualification, before assignment to a frontline F/A-18 squadron.
order to be a responder to anyone in danger. Lemoore’s SAR flight typically maintains either a 15, 30, or 60-minute alert posture in order to fulfil its mission. Three of the unit's aircraft are painted in a White and Red high visibility paint scheme, but on the day of our visit the aircraft on alert was in the standard U.S. Navy grey camouflage scheme seen in the photo above.