US Marine first lieutenant Catherine Stark has become the first female marine to be selected to fly the US Marine Corps’ F-35C Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft.
On 2 August, Stark earned her Marine Corps aviator Wings of Gold at a ceremony in Kingsville.
Stark has been assigned to the ‘Rough Raiders’ of VFA-125 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. She will soon begin training with the squadron.
Stark said: “It has been a long process to get to where I am today. During my time in flight training, I have met so many hardworking Marine and Navy pilots who have shared my experience. Every single one of them has worked hard to earn the Wings of Gold we pinned on.”
She completed flight training in the T-6B Texan II primary flight training aircraft and the T-45C Goshawk advanced jet training aircraft.
The Lockheed Martin-built F-35 aircraft is used by the US Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and nine other nations.
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The advanced aircraft is available in three variants of F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C.
F-35B is designated for the US Marine Corps (USMC) and has short takeoff and vertical takeoff capabilities.
The service will also operate the F-35C, which offers greater range and stealth capabilities and a larger payload capacity. The F-35C can also land on aircraft carriers.
The F-35C is expected to expand USMC’s mission capabilities.
VT-21 Executive Officer commander Christopher Glandon said: “Advanced jet training is very demanding and our instructors take extreme pride in training future naval aviators.
“Navy and Marine Corps aviators who complete this programme develop a diverse array of skills to execute the multiple missions in Naval Aviation. All who earn the Wings of Gold are prepared to continue learning the capabilities and tactics of the respective fleet jet communities for which they are selected.”
Earlier this year, USNI News reported that the USMC is accelerating the procurement of the F-35C. The service does not yet have an operational F-35C squadron.