VMFAT-101 SHARPSHOOTERS – “Fighter Attack starts here”
Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 (VMFAT-101) was established at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California on January 3rd 1969. The squadron trained naval aviators and naval flight officers for the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The Squadron had completed its first class of fighter aircrew by August of that year.
During the summer of 1970, VMFAT-101 moved to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ.
In July 1974, VMFAT-101 absorbed the assets of VMFAT-201 from MCAS Cherry Point, NC and became the largest fixed wing tactical jet squadron, and the sole remaining F-4 training squadron in the Marine Corps. The Sharpshooters continued to train aircrew in the venerable Phantom II until May, 1987 when its last F-4 replacement aircrew class was completed. In July, the squadron flew its remaining 10 F-4 aircraft into AMARC at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ, for permanent storage. During the 18 years VMFAT-101 flew the Phantom, the Sharpshooters amassed over 125,000 flight hours training Marine and Navy aircrew for the fleet.
On September 29, 1987, VMFAT-101 returned to MCAS El Toro to prepare for duty as the third F/A-18 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). By October 1988, the Sharpshooters owned 21 F/A-18s, had trained 25 qualified instructor pilots and were ready to begin training new Hornet pilots. By May 1989 VMFAT-101 graduated 23 new F/A-18 pilots and accumulated over 11,000 mishap free Hornet flight hours. In December 1989, the squadron entered its sixth year of being mishap/injury free.
On January 10, 1990, VMFAT-101 accepted its first two-seat F/A-18D Hornet and began training aircrew for the transition into the Hornet. By June 1990 the Sharpshooters had graduated over 150 Hornet aircrew and had amassed over 28,000 F/A-18 A, B, C and D flight hours.
Nowadays, VMFAT-101 belongs to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) and consists of roughly 40 aircraft and about the same number of instructors. The training is very similar to the training of the Navy’s pilots and the syllabus is closely coordinated with the Navy to provide a similar education. This is also emphasized by the fact that Marine Corps instructors are teaching in Navy squadrons and vice-verse. The 35 – 55 Marines pilots taught per year (the number depends on the syllabus and need of new pilots) are also trained in carrier landings (CQ) at the end of their course, bringing them to the same level as Navy pilots. However, as the focus on the Marine Squadrons is on the support of their troops on the ground, it also includes some specific “Marine-lessons“ like Forward Air Control (FAC) and Close Air Support (CAS). The Sharpshooters also train the WSO (Weapon Systems Officer) on the FA-18D Night Attack Hornets, which fly solely with the Marines.
The Squadron produces around 9500 flying hours in a year, which gives each instructor about 150-200 flying hours annually. An instructor comes from one of the active Marine squadrons and stays for three years. After the six to nine months of training needed to become an instructor, he stays for the rest of his tour training and educating new pilots. These trainees have completed two years of training with the T-6 Texan II and the T-45 Goshawk before coming to the squadron to become fighter pilots. The training lasts for at least 44 weeks; sometimes, depending on the achievement of certain steps and factors which the new pilot can’t influence (like weather, availability of instructors and aircraft) a few weeks longer. A trainee doesn’t have the same teacher all of the time, and one teacher doesn’t have the same trainees during the course. This ensures that the training is kept at the same level by all.
The constant exchange of instructors may prevent continuous (or fluent) training, however the constant influence of fighter pilots coming from combat operations also prevents the training squadron from being out of touch with the “real” world. This will keep the squadron “up-to-date” with the latest developments. The F/A-18s of the Marines are always kept up with the latest developments and modernization; they are the main asset for the Marines until they will be replaced by the F-35B & F-35C at VMFAT-101 at MCAS Miramar. This ensures that the motto of the Sharpshooters will be always up to date: “Fighter Attack starts here”.
We like to thank the PAO office at Miramar for their patience, great help and support in making this article possible. Especially Lt. Adibe was of great help in preparing our visit. Also the men and women at the Sharpshooters for their time and support. It was a great honor and pleasure to be allowed to spent some time with you.