Beaufort residents this week got an early glimpse at the new Joint Strike Fighter that will eventually be based at the Marine Corps Air Station there.
Two of the F-35B Lightning II jets visited the Marine Corps Air Station on Tuesday. About 150 people were on hand to see the new aircraft. The fighters will be part of the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 that is moving to Beaufort next year.
Major Gen. Robert Hedelund, commander of the Second Marine Aircraft Wing, spoke briefly to about 150 people gathered at the invitation-only event.
“We want to, as best as we can, make people aware (and) give them the opportunity to see… the capabilities, be familiar and be comfortable with them,” Hedelund said in video provided by the Defense Department. “So that when 501 shows up next summer… it’s no big surprise.”
The new jets are supposed to replace the F-18 Hornet. However, the F-35s have been plagued by problems and higher-than-expected costs.
The F-35B variant is designed for short vertical takeoffs and landings. Concerns over problems with the plane caused its development to be suspended briefly in 2011. However, the probation status was ended by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2012.
Work is currently underway at MCAS Beaufort on new facilities to handle the 501 squadron. The project is scheduled to be complete by January 2014.
Among those in attendance Tuesday was Congressman Mark Sanford.