Story by 1LT Pawel Puczko on 08/06/2019Marine 1st Lt. Catherine Stark earned her Wings of Gold as a Marine Corps aviator with Training Air Wing 2, Naval Air Station Kingsville, Aug. 2 and is now preparing to begin training on her assigned fleet aircraft: the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
Stark, currently attached to the "Fighting Redhawks" of Training Squadron (VT) 21, has been in training since early 2016. She completed training as Marine Corps officer aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and reported for flight training aboard NAS Pensacola, Florida. After more than two years of flight training in the T-6B Texan II primary flight training aircraft and the T-45C Goshawk advanced jet training aircraft, she has been selected to be the first female Marine to fly the F-35's C variant.
"It has been a long process to get to where I am today," Stark said. "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."
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is an advanced jet aircraft used by the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and nine other countries. Currently the Marine Corps has been employing the F-35B, which has short takeoff and vertical takeoff capabilities. The Navy's F-35C has greater range and stealth capabilities, while still capable of landing on aircraft carriers.
Implementation of the F-35C into Marine Corps fleet squadrons will greatly expand their mission capabilities. The F-35B brings with it the capabilities for taking off and landing on most airfields and the F-35C will provide greater range and a larger payload capacity.
"Advanced jet training is very demanding and our instructors take extreme pride in training future naval aviators," said Executive Officer of VT-21 Cmdr. Christopher Glandon. "Navy and Marine Corps aviators who complete this program 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."
The "Argonauts" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 became the Navy's first operational F-35C fleet squadron this year. The Marine Corps does not yet have an operational F-35C squadron, however Stark's selection marks the beginning of that integration.
During her time in the advanced jet phase of flight training, Stark scored exemplary scores on graded events such as Basic Fighter Maneuvering, Tactical Formations, and Section Engaged Maneuvering. Her overall Navy Standard Score through flight training distinguished her among her peers.
"I am excited to start training on my assigned fleet aircraft," Stark said. "Flying the F-35 has been a goal of mine since I started training, but I didn't know that I would have the opportunity to fly the F-35C. It's a humbling experience and I am eager to learn from the pilots who have already spent time flying such an advanced aircraft."
Stark is scheduled to begin her training with the "Rough Raiders" of VFA-125 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). The FRS takes pilots who have recently completed training and transitions them to their assigned fleet aircraft.
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