Marines fly AV-8B Harrier at Cherry Point Air Show, final public performance

Marines fly AV-8B Harrier at Cherry Point Air Show, final public performance

An AV-8B Harrier at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Air Show, May 11, 2023. Photo by Dan Parsons used with permission.

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. – Shortly after noon Sunday, a dark gray AV-8B Harrier criss-crossed the cloud-covered skies of eastern North Carolina at nearly 400 mph, as tens of thousands of spectators looked on. I ran away while being hit. Last public demonstration of Jump Jet.

The 2024 Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Air Show opened the day before with at least 80,000 people in attendance. The crowd dwarfed Havelock’s 16,000 or so residents. Havelock is a military town that boasts little other than a base and a collection of fast food restaurants for beachgoers heading east.

Lt. Col. Paul Trugue, commander of the Ace of Spades, 231st Marine Attack Squadron (VMA), battles stick-and-rudder aircraft through simulated attack flights, high-gravity turns, and aerial turns. I piloted a Harrier while doing so. Sudden stops from 500 knots to a hovering stop.

Trugue then used the last hydraulic flight control system in the U.S. military’s fighter jet inventory to turn the vertical short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) jet, performing pirouettes and hovering maneuvers. Trugue, who has logged 2,000 hours in the Harrier, will oversee the force’s transition to the F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter starting next year.

“This aircraft was designed to land on a highway, rearm, refuel, and return to combat,” said Col. Michael Fucci, who narrated the TruG demonstration flight. “I don’t think there’s anyone who pilots a Harrier who wouldn’t say it’s the most rewarding aircraft they’ve ever flown.”

Truug’s VMA-231, which will be integrated into several squadrons on the East Coast in 2022, is an AV-8B II, the latest version of the AV-8A originally manufactured by Hawker Siddeley in the UK and introduced in 1969. This will be the last unit to fly the Plus. His AV-8B, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing), first flew in 1981 and entered service four years later.

The II Plus version currently flying is powered by a more powerful version of the Rolls-Royce Pegasus 11 engine, which produces 23,800 pounds of thrust. It also has a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, night vision goggle capability, an APG-65 radar, and a targeting pod.

At least 80,000 aviation enthusiasts packed the tarmac Saturday for the first of two days packed with aerobatic performances and military aircraft demonstrations, including the final public appearance of the Marine Corps’ AV-8B.

The Harrier squadron completed its last deployment in March with Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, operating in the Middle East and Mediterranean Sea for more than eight months.

It is fitting that VMA-231 enters Harrier service after 40 years of service. The squadron was created at Marine Corps Air Station Miami in 1919, evolving from the Northern Bomber Group sent to France during World War I. At the time, the Marine Corps’ first aviation unit was flying the Curtiss JN-4D Jenny biplane.

It will soon be equipped with a state-of-the-art, fifth-generation short-takeoff vertical landing aircraft, the F-35B, which will take on the role of the Harrier and F-18 Hornet. Maj. Zachary Ybarra of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 542 (VMFA-542) piloted an F-35B at the beginning of the program.

An AV-8B Harrier hovers at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Air Show, May 11, 2023. Photo by Dan Parsons used with permission.

After taxiing to the tune of Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart,” Ybarra, a former Harrier pilot, demonstrated the F-35’s minimum radius turn, which pulls you into your seat with seven times the force of gravity. .

Whereas the stick-and-rudder, hydraulically controlled Harrier exhibits a slight but noticeable wobble while hovering, the fly-by-wire F-35B swings perfectly as if suspended by invisible wires. It appears to be stationary. The high-tech F-35, developed by Lockheed Martin, never deviated from its pilot-prescribed hover altitude as it rotated and taxied along the tarmac.

The Marine Corps Aviation Program plans to transition the VMA-231 to the F-35B starting next year, with six STOVL jets ready for safe flight in the third quarter of 2026. The plan calls for a total of 16 F-35Bs to be inducted within 24 months starting in fiscal 2026. Initial operational capability has been reached.

Cherry Point’s 2nd Squadron, VMA-223, began operating six F-35Bs last year and plans to have 16 aircraft fully fielded by fiscal year 2025, which begins Oct. 1. It is.

Already flying the F-35B, VMFA-542 is the first East to fly the jet after it received its first Lighting II in May 2023 and was declared safe to fly in August of the same year. It became the Coastal Squadron. The squadron is already deployed to Norway’s Evenes Air Base for the Nordic Response 2024 NATO exercise.

Cherry Point is also home to Harrier training unit VMAT-203, which flies AV-8B and TAV-8B two-seat trainer aircraft. According to the service’s aviation plan, the unit is scheduled to go down in fiscal year 2026.

Perched atop four swivel nozzles and a brownish column of superheated exhaust from the wingtips, Trug concluded the demonstration with the Harrier’s signature hover-to-vertical-landing maneuver. The AV-8B rose with a deafening roar, then descended and touched down gently, bouncing slightly on its extended landing gear to complete its final demonstration flight.

Trugue described the performance as “bittersweet”. But the show wasn’t over yet.

To send off the AV-8 in all its glory, another Harrier participated in a Marine Corps Air-Ground Task Force demonstration later in the show. During a high-speed, low-altitude flight over the dismounted Marines, who were flown by both a CH-53E Super Stallion and the Marine Corps’ newest heavy-lift helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion, another Harrier simulated an attack drive and 800 ignited the explosives at Ft. wall of flame.

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