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The Disestablishment and a Brief History of the VMAQT-1 Banshees

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Oxford Dictionary defines the word “disestablish” as: dis·es·tab·lish, [disəˈstabliSH] vb. “deprive (an organization, especially a country’s national church) of its official status.”

In military aviation, a disestablishment likely means that the squadron’s current operations, staffing, equipment and/or mission has finished its tasks, and that organization is disbanding. It also means that the heritage and accomplishments of the unit is no longer actively displayed. At the recent 2016 MCAS Cherry Point Air Show, those in attendance at the Friday evening event got a rare privilege to watch how a squadron is “disestablished”, with the appropriate pomp and honor that recognized Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 (VMAQT-1) and its past associated squadrons. VMAQT-1 has stood down, leaving the Marines with three Tactical Electronic Warfare squadrons equipped with the last Grumman EA-6B Prowlers in U.S. military service.

The unit’s lineage took a circuitous route to its recent status as the training squadron for all of the Marine Corps’ EA-6B crewmembers. Originally established as Marine Composite Squadron 1 (VMC-1) on September 15, 1952, it provided airborne warning and countermeasures support for Marine ground and air operations during the Korean War, using AD-4 and AD-5Q versions of the piston-engined Douglas Skyraider. One VMC-1 crew, pilot Major George H. Linnemeier and crewmember CWO Vernon S. Kramer, earned an aerial victory over a Polikarpov Po-2 biplane during the war. The squadron remained in the Korean theatre until 1955, when it moved to MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and merged with another aviation unit, Marine Photographic Squadron One (VMJ-1), to form the newly-named Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron One (VMCJ-1).

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While in Hawaii, VMCJ-1 wound up operating two types of jets in the early 1960s, the Douglas F-3D (later EF-10B) Skynight electronic countermeasures jet, and the camera-equipped Vought RF-8A Crusader (sometimes called the “Photo Crusader”). The Crusaders were often deployed as wing assets aboard various aircraft carriers, while the Skynights were mainly land-based.

With the advent of the Vietnam War, the Crusaders were deployed aboard various Seventh Fleet carriers in and around the Gulf of Tonkin while the Skynights were moved from their initial base at Iwakuni, Japan to Da Nang Air Base, to be closer to their areas of operation. The EF-10Bs played important roles in B-52 “Rolling Thunder” bombing missions during the 1960s, using their own “Fog Bound” mission names. As an example, during March, 1966, VMCJ-1’s RF-8 and EF-10 aircraft flew 267 missions totaling 600.6 hours of flying time, and unfortunately lost one aircrew, 1st Lieutenant Alvin McPherson and 1st Lt. Brent Davis when their EF-10B was presumed shot down while taking part in a Rolling Thunder mission.

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By December, 1966, the last RF-8A Photo Crusader was exchanged for new McDonnell Douglas RF-4Bs, and Grumman “Electronic Intruder” EA-6As were coming on line with the squadron, supplementing and then replacing the aging EF-10Bs – of which only eight remained at the end of the month. Operations were now land-based from Da Nang. For a number of months prior to December, there were four main types of aircraft being operated, which must have presented maintenance and logistical nightmares for their maintainers!

On December 2-3rd, a maximum-effort “Chivas Regal” mission was flown with nine ECM jets – three EA-6As and six EF-10Bs – the largest Marine ECM effort to date. A week and a half later, another large-scale effort, code named “Rusty Nail” was flown with an equal amount of jets and their crews. During the month, according to VMCJ-1 records, crews flying RF-4B and RF-8A jets provided some 36,060 feet of photographic film which was developed. EF-10B and EA-6A ECM crews jammed “280 Firecan, 27 Fansong, and two Crosslot radars” and reported the operation of “58 Firecan, 9 Fansong, 8 Rock/Stone Cake, 12 Flatface, and 11 Crosslot” radar sites/antennas during the month. 376 combat and 28 non-combat missions were flown amounting to 751 hours during combat missions, and an additional 31.3 hours spent on test flights and aircraft ferry flights (as the RF-8s moved back to the U.S.).

After ground forces moved out of Vietnam, VMCJ-1 split into multiple Detachments, and ultimately two squadrons again… Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron Two (VMAQ-2) and Marine Photo Reconnaissance Squadron Three (VMFP-3). VMFP-3 moved from Hawaii to MCAS El Toro, California, while VMAQ-2 moved to MCAS Cherry Point NC. VMAQ-2 “Detachment A” became carrier-borne again, and operated their EA-6A Electric Intruders in the Pacific Ocean areas of operation.

In 1977, the squadron transitioned into the EA-6B Prowler, and its Pacific presence, normally a six month rotation, became known as “Detachment X-ray”. Detachments “Yankee” and “Zulu” operated elsewhere, while other Prowlers remained in Cherry Point. During Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Det. X-ray’s Pacific tour was extended past a year due to VMAQ-2’s additional deployment in the Middle East. Close to 500 operational sorties were flown by the latter crews during the war.

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After Desert Storm, VMAQ-2 continued to field three detachments. X-ray was deployed at MCAS Iwakuni Japan when another administrative change occurred… On July 1, 1992, all Marine electronic warfare elements – whether it was a squadron or one of their detachments, were concentrated into three active and one Reserve electronic warfare squadrons. Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron One (VMAQ-1) was commissioned, renaming Detachment X-ray in Japan. Home base would still be MCAS Cherry Point NC.

As a Fleet Squadron, VMAQ-1 was deployed to most major hot spots in the world during the next two decades, garnering many unit awards and citations. The squadron’s emblem, a Banshee, represents a legendary woman who appears to announce an impending death, in Irish folklore. The words on the emblem, in Gaelic, are: “Tairngreacht Bas” – or “Death Foretold”, are fitting for a squadron whose missions includes reconnaissance and the targeting of electronic emitters.

In 2003, VMAQ-1 deployed to Saudi Arabia to take part in Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, chalking up 1129 flight hours while flying 197 combat missions. Not only did the EA-6B operate against radars, but communications jamming had become a top priority. Several more large deployments occurred during the 2005 to 2011 timeframe, to places including Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The U.S. Navy began retiring their EA-6Bs as new EF-18G Growlers reached operational status in 2009. The Navy had provided all of the training for Marine Prowler squadrons, but were getting out of the EA-6B program rapidly. The Marines soon needed an organization of their own to train their people in the ways of the Prowler, since it was planned to operate EA-6Bs through 2019, when the final jets are slated to retire. On June 14, 2013, the Marines re-designated VMAQ-1 as Marine Electronic Warfare Training Squadron One (VMAQT-1), to provide full training for the final three Marine Prowler squadrons. By March, 2014, VMAQT-1 was in the air, training their first flying class.

The planned drawdown of the Marines’ EA-6B fleet began with VMAQT-1 in 2016, and will follow with the other three squadrons being disestablished, one per year, through 2019. Instead of replacing the EA-6B airframe with another jet, the Marines took a different approach, according to Marine Lt. Maida Zheng, MCAS Cherry Point PAO. “MAGTF EW” (Marine Air-Ground Task Force Electronic Warfare) is a digital interoperability strategy that makes most vehicles in the air and on the ground collectors of signals; any information that is collected will be shared across a wide range of users. The days of one or two collectors (read: EA-6Bs) operating over a relatively small area are over; the Marine Aviation Plan 2016 states that this “process is a significant paradigm shift…”. The Marine Corps will switch to a “distributed, platform-agnostic strategy – where every platform contributes/functions as a sensor, shooter and sharer – to include EW”. Unmanned, plus fixed and rotary-winged aircraft, and ground-based platforms will all share information, both incoming and outgoing.

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As sunset fittingly began to cast a warm glow in the North Carolina skies, a color guard carrying the American flag and the unit battle color of the squadron, and a formation of Marines from VMAQT-1, assembled in front of the spectator stands.

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An official account of the squadron’s lineage and history was read, and a trio of EA-6B Prowlers, in VMAQT-1 colors, flew a precise echelon formation as they passed in review in front of the assembled Marines and air show spectators. Then the official directive that disestablished Marine Tactical Electronic Training Squadron One, by the end of May 2016, was proclaimed. The three Prowlers returned to a formation break overhead, and landed.

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Then, two black sleeves were pulled over the rolled U.S. and unit flags, and the color guard and formation of Marines marched off of the ramp.

The short but well-choreographed event was a somber ceremony, as the visible features of VMAQT-1 – the Marines, the jets, and the flags, were readied for disbandment. Luckily, accounts of the deeds of VMC-1, VMCJ-1, VMAQ-1, VMAQT-1 and their various Detachments and temporary assignments remain, through written and photographic history. Those interested in the history of these units won’t be “deprived” of that honor.

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Footnote: The VMAQT-1’s “color bird” was retired to the Hickory Air Museum, on May 14, 2016.

Many thanks to the MCAS Cherry Point Public Affairs Officer Lt. Maida Zheng for explaining some of the new Marine MAGTF EW strategy to me, and allowing us great access for our photos. Thanks to all the Marine Public Affairs personnel who helped us during the weekend too!

Wings over Illawarra 2016 – A Parade of Allies!

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The Historic Aircraft Restoration Society operates its museum, dominated by the B747-400 VH-OJA, at Illawarra regional Airport, Albion Park, New South Wales. In cooperation with the museum, Bright Events have managed Wings over Illawarra air show for some years. After attempts for the last two years, WoI was finally visited by favourable weather in 2016. Last year, the air show was cancelled due to heavy rains and the amount of sitting water on the runway. The year before that, high winds were responsible for the cancellation. This tried the patience of the organisers and participants and took a tremendous amount of work to bring to us a successful 2016 event.

On the Friday (29th April) it was Setup and Practice Day, poor weather was forecast and the day remained mostly overcast.

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The static display aircraft of HARS were ranged along the tarmac opposite their restoration hangar. Most of their larger types were on display – two Caribou, two C-47s, Catalina, Neptune, & Canberra. Progress was noted, including new paintwork on their Dakota VH-EAE; a repainted Neptune A89-281 in the mid grey and white maritime scheme; Canberra A84-502, seen previously in the early silver paint scheme, now in a more ‘finished’ state with decals applied. Static display Sabre A94-901 is complete with decals and Mirage IIIO A3-42 in original paint (which will not fly), is a new arrival from Essendon, Melbourne.

The ex-USAF F-111A (RAAF F-111C) A8-109 had its cockpit accessible. It is the final operational aircraft worldwide, to shut down its engines (as witnessed by the author) in December 2010 at RAAF Base Amberley, QLD, following its part in the retirement day for F-111’s – “Pig’s Tales”. We spent considerable time with HARS volunteer Phillip McDonald, an ex-RAAF WSO (Weapons Systems operator/Navigator), having a personalised tour of -109. Phil allowed us time in the cockpit, demonstrating systems pertaining to his muster such as the radar scope, the AN/APQ-110 Terrain Following Radar (TFR) and the swing wing which make the F-111 type almost a special category in itself. Interestingly, he explained, in the very-low-flight envelope (100-ft), handling was usually achieved by manual inputs as this was at- or beyond- the capabilities of the TFR. Phil spent 3 years on F-111, coming from Dakota (on the final course for Navigators on this type), Neptune and Canberra.

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There was new tail art on airworthy Caribou A4-210 (VH-VBA) – the Orange-red Wallaby denoting “Wallaby Airlines”, which referred to the early Caribou deliveries which were made direct from the factory to the Royal Australian Air Force, in-country to Vietnam. Operated by Royal Australian Air Force Transport Flight, Vietnam (RAAFTFV), the unit was to be redesignated 35 Squadron on 1 June 1966. “Wallaby’ was the unit’s callsign and with that name, it is no wonder a shorter moniker was chosen!

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The DC-4 (formerly VH-PAF) is now complete with outer wing panels fitted, yet still requires significant work to replace internal systems before flight. Exciting news has it that HARS will soon have a Convairliner in Trans-Australia Airlines scheme. The HARS PBY-6A Catalina was not flown during the show due to a blown carburettor.

Moving on to the air show proper, we had an indifferent forecast for weather, ultimately we had a fine afternoon on Saturday and a fine Sunday. Unfortunately, the most anticipated aircraft of the weekend, was unavailable to appear after a mechanical issue developed prior to its arrival at Albion Park. This is the Focke-Wulf Fw-190A8, Wk.Nr. 173056, a genuine combat veteran and the first of its type to fly in Australia. While this was disappointing, safety must always come first!

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Paul Bennet demonstrated a very clever aerobatic routine featuring three aircraft – Wolf Pitts Pro and two Pitts S-1S specials known as the “Sky Aces”. In 2009, Paul Bennet was named Australian Unlimited Aerobatics Champion. His low flying in several vintage aircraft was something special to behold – we are privileged to have this talent available for air shows in Australia. His T-28B was held low along the runway on takeoff, then followed some wild flying! The T-28B was registered August ‘08 to the National Museum of Naval Aviation before changing owner. Don’t be fooled by the paint scheme –it still wears its Navy Bureau number!

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Saturday, Glenn Collins was flying Paul Bennet’s Wirraway –WWY, A20-81 (which is painted as A20-176). During WWII, this trainer was operated by 5 Service Flying Training School, and force landed near Wodonga, Vic in May 1942, due to pilot running out of fuel. Early Wirraways were sent to Malaya to assist RAAF pilots converting onto Buffalos and were later used for army co-operation. It is believed this was a role for which -81 was also used. In 2005 -WWY was restored at Sandora Aviation, Caboolture, QLD.

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The Grumman (General Motors) TBM-3E was restored for Steve Searle at Coolangatta on the Gold Coast in 2005 and was also flown by Paul. Combat history – it served aboard USS Bunker Hill in the Pacific Theatre, hence the “Broad arrow” recognition marking on the tail. In flight, the port undercarriage does hang slightly proud of the underwing – Paul says this is only due to a small hydraulic leak and is maintained but to fix properly would require total restitution of the entire system.

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Matt Hall Aerobatics features Matt Hall who is a former RAAF fighter combat (Top Gun) Instructor with combat experience, having competed in international unlimited aerobatics and well known overseas for his Red Bull Air Race World championship racing achievements. Matt Hall flew Mustang -MFT. Mustang VH-MFT was taking media and volunteers for a “jolly’, or joyride, prior to and during the air show. Matt also flew stunning aerobtic displays in his Extra EA300L.

The Russian Roolettes formation display team, consisting of 6 ex-Russian YAK-51 and Nanchang CJ-6A trainers, the latter uprated for performance aerobatics – conducted a polished display. Based at Mittagong airfield in the NSW Southern Highlands, this team was constituted in a hurry when the RAAF Roulettes were suddenly unavailable for an earlier air show. As a six-ship they made an impressive entrance with a head-on “Bomb Burst”.

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After undergoing last minute adjustments, the HARS Connie took off just before dark for a Saturday sunset flight with lots of smoke and flame! Perhaps the most appreciated display came from the Cessna A-37B Dragonfly of CombatDragon.com.au, flown by Gary Criddell, which also performed a dusk display into a superb setting sun.

One of the undoubted highlights and a first for Australia, was the escort of Roulettes PC-9/A trainers from RAAF Base East Sale, in formation with CONNIE, the HARS Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation.

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Local flavour was provided by the 1943 PT-17 Stearman N57916/ILW “Lilly Warra” flown by Chris Clark. With an interesting history of training with the USAAC during WWII, this Stearman was part of the “Zulu squadrons”, tasked with training the black fighter pilot intakes who later became the famous, distinguished “Tuskegee airmen”. During the war, RAAF pilots in Italy, operated off bases with units of the Tuskegees. Years later, at a reunion a former pilot remarked that the RAAF guys were “okay – they didn’t mind a man of colour”.

Somewhat of a repeat of the previous day, on Sunday the blue sky however, combined with a cooler, breezier day (gusting at times to 25-30 knots) ensured this day had a feeling of “renewal”, this was surely THE day – WoI had recovered from those disappointments!

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Matt Denning flew the Commonwealth Boomerang fighter. An interesting story – the Boomerangs were designed to field 20mm Hispano cannon but none were in production in 1942 in Australia when this “stop-gap” fighter was conceived In Melbourne, Victoria. From British aircraft wrecks in North Africa, Hispanos were souvenired by an Aussie serviceman – somehow he smuggled them back to Australia when he was repatriated. Tipped-off, authorities seized the cannon and the design was reverse engineered here for Boomerang. A perfect example of Aussie can-do!

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YAK-3U VH-YOV “Steadfast”, (See PHOTORECON, October 1, 2012) a 2005-build Reno racer fitted with Pratt & Whitney R-2000 (same as for Caribou). Built for Will Whiteside in Romania in original jigs, Steadfast was raced at Reno and set a record at the time for 0-10000ft in 2mins 3 secs, then reportedly passing through the care of Sanders Aircraft and brought up to 1750hp (from its Original 1450hp), the YAK achieved 460MPH fitted with a Curtiss-Wright Direct detonation injection system and is considered the fastest single-engine, piston aircraft under 3 tonnes. It has Sanders aircraft-built smoke generators (reportedly modified from B-25 heaters) sourced from the late Guido Zuccoli’s QLD-based Sea Fury. Jim Crockett flew it on the Sunday. Purchased by an Archerfield, QLD-based syndicate in 2012, it was assembled in Perth. Interestingly, the original design was compared by a French member of the Normandie-Niemen unit against the Spitfire and P-51 and rated in his opinion, a better fighter aircraft.

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Other aircraft flown over the weekend included the colourful North American AT-6G Texan of “Fleet Warbirds”, the JetRide Australia Aero L39 flown by Mark Pracy, and Steve Death in the Temora Aviation Museum’s Spitfire Mark VIII which joined their Boomerang in the air this weekend. Due to water on the runway and high winds, Jeff Trappett rather wisely elected to confine his Sabre display in –SBR / A94-352 to a fast taxi (given he avoided disaster at the show two years previously).

The air show organisers were very good to provide the media with access to cover significant items such as Mustang departure, and airside access. HARS volunteers were also obliging and offered journalists every assistance to find better and more unique photo angles. The writer would like to thank Bright Events and the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society for their support over this enjoyable weekend.

75 Years of History Observed at MCAS Cherry Point

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Over the last weekend in April 2016, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, located in the town of Havelock, North Carolina, offered their 75th Anniversary Air Show. Three quarters of a century is a long time, especially since powered flight was initiated fewer than four decades earlier than the base’s beginnings. There were quite a number of historic planes displayed at the show, and other more modern aircraft wore special colors that commemorated more events that occurred while MCAS Cherry Point has been in operation. The local area has a number of restored jets on display that have flown from Cherry Point’s runways too. Here’s a review of many of the interesting sights and sounds seen during the three day event.

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2016 Air Power Over Hampton Roads Air Show

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Langley Air Show 2016, Celebrating One Hundred Years of Air Power over Hampton, VA

2016 marked the 100th anniversary of Langley Field. To commemorate a century of Langley’s history, Joint Base Langley-Eustis hosted an open house on April 22-24 at Langley Air Force Base, kicking off a series of year-long events throughout the historically-rich Hampton Roads, VA area.

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Langley Field

In 1915, at the onset of World War I, Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for the purpose of, “Supervising and directing the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution.” A site was then needed to carry out the necessary aeronautical research, aviation experiments and flight testing. The military was attracted to the Hampton Roads, VA area which featured unobstructed open flat lands, next to water (Back River) and close to the U.S. Army’s Fort Monroe. On December 30, 1916, the federal government was convinced to make its first area land purchase of 1,650 acres. The airfield built there by the Army Air Service and NACA was named for American military aviation pioneer Samuel Pierpont Langley. Langley Field was one of the earliest military bases in America specifically built for air power.

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