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San Diego • The Marine Corps is forming the first squadron of pilots to fly the next-generation strike fighter jet, months after lawmakers raised concern that there was a rush to end the testing of an aircraft hit with technical problems.
So far, two veteran pilots of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing have been trained to fly the F-35B. They are becoming the first members of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 that will debut Tuesday at a ceremony at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.
The first F-35B arrived Friday, and 15 more are slated to arrive during the next year. The Defense Department has pumped half a billion dollars into upgrading the facilities, hangars and runways at the base to make way for the next-generation fighter jet, officials said.
The pilots of the new squadron are expected to fly the aircraft by year's end.
The F-35B would replace Cold War-era aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier. Tuesday's inauguration comes only months after leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee suggested that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rushed a decision to develop the Marine Corps version of the fighter jet.
The Associated Press