May 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy deactivated one of two remaining F-35C Joint Strike Fighter training squadrons, known as Grim Reaper, transferring the activities from northern Florida to central California.
Almost 200 people attended the ceremony Thursday at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach as the last Grim Reaper F-35C began its journey to Naval Air Station Lemoore in Kings County. Grim Reapers date to 1942.
"The contributions that VFA-101 has made to the F-35C community will not diminish as this program grows," VFA-101 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Adan Covarrubias said at the ceremony. "The original cadre of maintainers and pilots have left a legacy that is evidenced in all aspects of this community. Their influence will continue long after the squadron's doors are closed."
Covarrubias will take command of VFA-125 next month in California with many of his maintainers and pilots joining him. After the deactivation ceremony, he told USNI News that "it was probably the best thing we could have ever done."
During the fall and winter, the two squadrons worked together multiple times. "It's kind of been seamless," Covarrubias said. "When we transition to 125 here in a couple weeks, everybody knows each other, everybody's worked with each other in the past. We've been working this for about a year now, and we've worked really well together."
Past and present Grim Reaper pilots, crew and family members attended the ceremony. They included family members of the original VF-10 Grim Reapers, the Capt. William R. Kane family and the James H. Flatley family with three generations of Grim Reaper pilots in attendance.
"We're excited about the integration," Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, who spoke at the deactivation ceremony, told USNI News. "And as we move forward, there's some challenges, no doubt. How do we integrate this appropriately? How do we use all the capabilities that the F-35 has, so that we can move forward with the carrier air wing of the future?"
Kelley was a former Grim Reapers pilot when the squadron flew the F-14 Tomcat.
With a home port in an Diego, the squadron was originally known as VF-10 and was flying the F4F Wildcat off USS Enterprise in the Pacific during World War II. In 1945, VF-10 deactivated at Naval Air Station Almeda on San Francisco Bay.
In 1952, VF-101 was commissioned at NAS Cecil Field, Fla., assuming the nickname and traditions of the previous VF-10 "Grim Reapers. They flew FG1-D Corsairs in the Korean War.
VF-101 was deactivated September 2005 but reactivated in May 2012 on the 60th Anniversary of the Grim Reapers, as the first Lightning II Fleet Replacement Squadron for the F-35C.
The squadron has trained more than 75 Navy and Marine Corps F-35C pilots, trained more than 1,200 F-35C maintainers, flown nearly 11,000 flight hours and accepted more than 30 aircraft,
Naval Air Station Lemoore is the home base for Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing, the Navy's F-35C fleet squadrons and the Fleet Replacement Squadron, which trains Navy and Marine Corps carrier-based JSF pilots
Most F-35C pilots at VFA-101 will transfer to California. Also, more than 50 percent of sailor maintainers from the Grim Reapers will also remain in the F-35C operation at Lemoore or at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Remaining at Eglin will be U.S. Navy Enlisted Maintenance training at the Academic Training Center and the Navy's support of Test & Evaluation joint development with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and the partners at Eglin.
"When we assessed the requirements to establish and mature the F-35C community, NAS Lemoore was the right place to home-base our Sailors and aircraft," Capt. Max McCoy, the U.S. Navy F-35C wing commodore, said. "Consolidating resources enables leadership to better support Fleet Replacement Squadron training and operational squadron transitions, both for the Navy and Marine Corps."
The Navy also wants to integrate F-35C assets with existing F/A-18E/F aircraftly stationed at NAS Lemoore.
"Home-basing the F-35C at NAS Lemoore also gives sailors the flexibility to move from 'sea' to 'shore' billets without leaving NAS Lemoore," McCoy said. "The F-35C is part of the Navy's Strike Fighter community. Co-locating 4th and 5th generation aircraft accelerates carrier air wing integration, making our carrier strike groups more lethal and survivable. NAS Lemoore is a catalyst for how we will train, maintain and sustain future carrier air wing capability."