Community getting ready to welcome the VMFAT-501 - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Community getting ready to welcome the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Squadron


 There will be plenty of fireworks happening on Fourth of July but the Beaufort community has another big reason to celebrate next Friday.

That's when the first F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Squadron, known as VMFAT-501, will arrive in town.

At a public demonstration last year, MCAS Beaufort gave the public a chance to see the future of Marine Aviation up close.

What sets it apart from any aircraft in the world is its short take-off vertical standing, or STOVL.

"STOVL means this aircraft will be able to operate not only from shipping, more amphibious ships and other flat top ships if you will, but also from very short runways, it opens up the operational window of what that aircraft can operate from and land to," Major General Robert Hedelund said. 

Beaufort is set to receive five Joint Strike Fighter squadrons and be the only training ground for F-35B pilots.

The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce estimates the fighter jets will have a $1.46 billion economic impact. 

"Having them actually come, the first squadron, VMFAT-501 here in Beaufort is huge, economically as well as for our national defense and just what they bring to the fabric of our community," Jamie Dailey Vergara said.

To show its appreciation, the Chamber and its partners are planning a community wide celebration.

Many stores like Modern Jewelers will be staying open late and offering an F-35B discount to customers. 

"We're just awfully excited to have a new squadron in Beaufort. This afternoon, we had a couple Marine graduates come in and it just gives you chillbumps when you see these come in and you know what they're doing for their country," Kevin Cuppia with Modern Jewelers said.

The welcome ceremony will start at 6 p.m. next Friday at the waterfront park. There will be fireworks and a performance by the Parris Island Marine Corps. Band.

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