News | July 10, 2024

Marine Major Innovates, Develops Mission-Critical F-35B Course

By the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

On March 13, 2003, a flight of three AV-8B Harriers launched from the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) on a night combat sortie. Sometime after launch, the Operation Southern Watch mission was scrubbed due to a sandstorm that swept across Kuwait and over the Northern Arabian Gulf headed toward the ship. The Harriers were dangerously low on fuel and had failed attempts to break out of the weather to find the ship.

Moments from fuel starvation, the landing signal officer (LSO) aboard ship directed a pilot, “turn your landing light on.” The LSO picked up the Harriers half a mile from the ship and directed the pilots’ eyes safely onto the deck one-by-one.

LSOs are pilots trained to guide fixed-wing, carrier-based aircraft to safe landings aboard ship. They work closely with the ship’s captain and air boss to maintain launch and recovery timelines and address any delays or issues that may arise during operations. They are often referred to as “paddles” on the radio because early Navy LSOs used large colorful paddles to visually communicate with aircraft landing on carriers.

Today, paddles for short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft are more critical than ever. In the case of the F-35B Lightning II, STOVL LSOs are sourced from experienced pilots and have the same responsibilities as their Harrier predecessors, but LSO training is adapting to the Marine Corps’ expanding role of the F-35B for maritime operations. The F-35B is designed to operate from landing helicopter assault and landing helicopter dock amphibious assault ships, as well as expeditionary airstrips less than 2,000 feet long. STOVL LSOs enable the F-35B’s expeditionary nature.

Maj. Brian Kimmins is an AV-8B and F-35B trained LSO leading the establishment of a Marine Corps F-35B STOVL LSO school at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, to increase the quality and quantity of trained LSOs.

Kimmins received his naval aviator wings in 2012 and was assigned to the AV-8B Harrier. He gained professional experience within the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Most notably, Kimmins joined Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, as a Harrier Pilot in 2013, transitioned to the F-35B in 2019 and returned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 in 2021 as an F-35B pilot. Kimmins deployed with multiple Marine Expeditionary Units, conducting flight operations at sea and earning Division Leader, Mission Commander and Training Landing Signal Officer qualifications. He has supervised more than 1,000 field carrier landing practice and shipboard vertical landings as an LSO and conducted 250 ship landings himself.

“The F-35B is the force’s modern STOVL-capable fighter jet,” Kimmins said. “The fifth-generation fighter incorporates advanced technology including stealth capabilities, advanced weaponry, and advanced sensors, providing a MEU with a more capable aircraft than its AV-8B predecessor.”

Since 1985, the AV-8B Harrier served as the Marine Corps’ vertical or short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) capable fighter jet that typically operated from large-deck amphibious ships. The Marine Corps is whittling its Harrier fleet and expects full retirement by fiscal year 2027, according to the Marine Aviation Plan.

Marine aviators have historically received LSO training for both the Harrier and F-35B platforms on-the-job. The Navy operates an LSO School at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia, that trains Navy and Marine Corps personnel embarking on nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The Marine Corps used to send carrier-based F/A-18 squadron LSOs to train at NAS Oceana and now sends LSOs for the carrier capable F-35C Lightning II. Four pilots from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 have trained as LSOs at NAS Oceana since the “Black Knights” stood up as the Marine Corps’ first F-35C squadron in 2020. In 2022, VMFA-314 deployed aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) as part of Carrier Air Wing 9.

Until recently, there was not a formal school for F-35B LSOs deploying with MEUs.

“On-the-job training largely takes place with MEUs, where pilots conduct qualifications over the course of a six to eight month deployment,” Kimmins said, referencing the Marine Corps deployments aboard Navy amphibious assault ships that F-35B squadrons support. “Because of the limited number of LSOs in the community right now, you have some LSOs doing back-to-back ship deployments.”

The Marine Corps F-35B STOVL LSO school fills the training gap for future LSOs aboard amphibious assault ships. The school is hosted at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, centering around the F-35 Integrated Test Force Manned Flight Simulator Facility.

“Modernizing LSO training with a dedicated simulator significantly reduces cost and increases throughput and quality of training,” Kimmins said.

The simulator is a dome and projector setup where the environment replicates standing in primary flight control on an amphibious assault ship. It is capable of simulating launching and recovering an aircraft both day and night, in all weather conditions, and can simulate emergency procedures specific to the ship environment.

“The simulator provides the ability to monitor and control more shipboard launches and recoveries over the course of two days than you’ll see in an entire week at the ship,” Kimmins said, “The enormous effort of the leaders and engineers at the F-35 Integrated Test Force are the reason we’ve maintained momentum in formally establishing a schoolhouse.”

A leap forward in capability, efficiency and realism, the simulator enhances readiness because it can produce LSOs at a much faster rate with a higher quality of training than before. Kimmins led the first course in June 2023 to prepare 3rd MAW pilots for a MEU deployment.

“Feedback has been that the simulator training before going to the ship was invaluable,” Kimmins said. “Prospective LSOs felt more comfortable about going to the ship to control F-35B launches and recoveries, having already seen the environment in a simulator.”

Marine Corps Force Design and modernization requires Marines who have critical thinking skills and mental dexterity. More than simply modern technologies and equipment, the Marine Corps values leaders like Kimmins who are adaptable and innovative problem solvers.

Looking forward, Kimmins envisions an LSO School with the capability to train partner nation F-35B LSOs, furthering interoperability and integration.

“My long-term vision is an LSO school where we teach F-35B LSOs to become subject matter experts in shipboard and expeditionary advanced base operations integration for their squadrons,” Kimmins said. “The training will lay the foundation for team building with partner nation LSOs.”
From the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

French LSO Instructor Expresses Benefits of U.S.-France Alliance


The Landing Signal Officer (LSO) School is the launching pad for all LSOs in the Navy. The school provides their initial training on providing safe and expeditious landings of aircraft on aircraft carriers.

The LSO School has been training U.S. Navy pilots for 79 years. Though they often welcome foreign pilots to train with them, French navy Lt. Adrien Tosser has inked his name into the history books as the school’s second French instructor, continuing that legacy of opportunity. 
Tosser was assigned to Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana’s LSO School in 2022 to extend his experience as an LSO, while simultaneously strengthening bonds between the United States and France.

Tosser’s assignment is a representation of the longstanding alliance between the United States and France. Both nations are proud members of NATO, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this April. One of the purposes of NATO is to build relationships that enhance security, and Tosser understands the importance of fostering those relationships.

“Sometimes you see U.S. pilots coming on the French carrier, and they see some of the friends they had in flight school that they hadn't talked to in years, and they're like ‘Hey! You're here?!’ It’s great,” Tosser said. 

Having been on almost all carriers on the East Coast, Tosser has gained invaluable experience. He credits advancements on the catapult systems on both French jets, and the French navy aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, with increasing interoperability between the navies. These changes enable pilots to land on both U.S. and French flight decks while at sea—further enhancing security worldwide. This additional training platform also enables French pilots to achieve their flight qualifications quicker, and provides U.S. pilots too with additional experience in landing methods. 

“We still have barriers, but the goal is to erase those [barriers] and continue to move forward and build interoperability and relationships even more than in the previous generations,” Tosser said.

Tosser is an example of the commitment NATO and its members have had to each other for the past 75 years. As he prepares his lessons for his students, Tosser provides this reminder.

“You can't think you know everything and just sit on your knowledge,” Tosser said. “Every day there are new things to learn. Every day is different. Keep the will to learn.”
Written by Information System Technician 2nd Class Megan Roberts, Naval Air Force Atlantic Public Affairs.