The Marine Corps will train the final two new AV-8B Harrier pilots in 2024 as part of a long-term transition to the F-35 Lightning II.

The transition from the AV-8B Harrier and F/A-18C/D Hornet jets to the newer F-35 Lightning II will be complete by the end of fiscal year 2030, according to Marine aviation spokeswoman Capt. Alyssa Myers, who also provided the number of new Harrier pilots in 2024. The Marine Corps still will train Hornet pilots through 2027, according to the 2022 aviation plan.

The Marine Corps’ fleet includes both the F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant — ideal for the smaller amphibious ships that usually transport Marines — and the F-35C variant, a long-range jet built for land- and carrier-based operations.

The Marine Corps already has deactivated some Harrier and Hornet squadrons as part of the transition to the Lightning II.

In December 2024, the Marine Corps likely will release Project Eagle, its strategy aimed at getting aviation ready for the operating environment of 2040, Myers said in a Nov. 20 email to Marine Corps Times. Project Eagle will evolve as the commandant, Gen. Eric Smith, develops his official planning guidance, according to Myers.

Another big initiative for Marine Corps aviation in 2024 is safety.

In August, four Marines were killed in two different aircraft crashes that occurred within days of each other. In September, an F-35B temporarily went missing over South Carolina after the pilot ejected — a mishap that, combined with the earlier tragedies, prompted Smith to ground all aircraft for two days.

“General Smith recently signed the Marine Corps’ Aviation Safety Campaign Plan (ASCP) that directs an expansive review of aviation programs as we continue to modernize and sharpen our competitive and lethal edge,” Myers said in the November email. “This review leverages Naval Aviation’s century-old approach of tactical risk management to identify and eliminate risks at the lowest echelon.”

The plan isn’t publicly releasable, Myers said.

By summer 2024, the Corps plans to create a safety center, with a general officer in charge, Smith said in September.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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