Lightning II Bug

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Lockheed Martin

A Marine F-35B makes a night-time short takeoff at Pax River Tuesday.

The Marines’ F-35B Lightning II jump jet performed its first night-time short takeoff and vertical landing at Maryland’s Patuxent River Naval Air Station on Tuesday.

This ability to take off from, and land on, cramped spaces — like the corps’ amphibious ships — is the Marine F-35B variant’s key reason for life.

“The vertical and short takeoff capability of the aircraft is truly, for me at least, the most revolutionary part of the airplane,” Marine Major General Ken McKenzie says. “Both tactically and strategically it’s a transformational capability, and it’s going to bring us unique capabilities to operate from small islands, from littorals, as we go forward.”

Neither the Air Force’s F-35A nor the Navy’s F-35C has this V/STOL — “vertical and/or short takeoff and landing” — capability.

All three services are buying versions of the F-35 at a cost approaching $400 billion to save the money that otherwise would be spent developing unique platforms for each military service.

Critics say the Marines’ V/STOL capability isn’t needed, and some taxpayers say it’s not worth the premium price. But it sure is cool to see.