FLYING Magazine

Marine Corps pilots landed 20 F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters on the deck of the USS Tripoli (LHA-7) this week, marking the largest number of the jump jets loaded onto a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship.

The aircraft landings are part of an ongoing joint Navy and Marine Corps exercise underway in the Pacific demonstrating the lightning carrier concept that turns amphibious assault ships into light carriers. 

The Tripoli, which was commissioned in 2020, is the Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship and was designed to accommodate a Marine Corps’ Air Combat Element that includes the F-35Bs, as well as the MV-22 Osprey.

“The Lightning carrier concept demonstration shows Tripoli and other amphibious assault ships are capable of operating as dedicated fixed-wing carrier platforms, capable of bringing fifth generation short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft wherever they are required,” the U.S. Navy said.

Of the aircraft on the Tripoli, 16 are assigned to Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and four belong to Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1, a military spokesperson told FLYING.

“In coordination with MAG 13, Marine Corps aviation is focused on: supporting ship test requirements; shaping the way the MAG fights from the sea; building tactics, techniques, and procedures for the lightning carrier concept; and enhancing readiness to deploy,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing spokesman 1LT Duane Kampa said in an email.

The exercises, which are set to end Thursday, include about 500 Marines, along with the Tripoli’s crew of about 1,100 sailors, USNI reported. 

It’s a dress rehearsal for not only facing an adversary with air capabilities, but also practicing the logistics of moving and maneuvering a large number of aircraft onboard the ship.

“We’re learning how to fight as a MAG. How do we operate the deck? How do we not lock his deck up with all these airplanes out here?” Col. Chad A. Vaughn, commander of Yuma, Arizona-based Marine Aircraft Group 13, told USNI News.

Guy next to me: “That blew me out of the water”: F-35B jet floats in air at Farnborough airshow #FIA16 #avgeek pic.twitter.com/reOi8SHmT2

— CNN Travel (@CNNTravel) July 12, 2016

With its short takeoff/vertical landing capability, the Marine Corps’ F-35B variant is replacing the service’s aging fleet of AV-8B Harrier IIs and is designed to operate from austere airfields or launch from ships.

The single-seat stealth fighter, equipped with a single Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, is able to achieve supersonic speeds of Mach 1.6, according to manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The F-35B’s landing and takeoff capabilities are much like a helicopter. Its swiveling jet pipe is able to rotate 90 degrees, allowing it to redirect its engine thrust downward as lift fans produce about 40,000 pounds of vertical thrust.

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