VMFAT-101 Visiting Long Beach Airport
The sound of military jets could be heard all over the city of Long Beach, California during the Labor Day weekend. The source of that sound was Marine Flight Attack Training Squadron VMFAT-101 know as “The Sharpshooters” based at MCAS Miramar, California.
SharpShooter Background, excerpt from Marine Corps Website
Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 (VMFAT-101), the Sharpshooters were commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif. Jan. 3, 1969, as part of Marine Combat Crew Readiness Training Group 10, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing. The squadron trained naval aviators and naval flight officers in the employment of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. VMFAT-101 flew its first training sortie Feb. 20, 1969, and 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, Ariz. In 1972 the Sharpshooters earned their first Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Aviation Safety Award for Excellence in aviation safety after compiling over 18,300 mishap free flight hours.
In July 1974 VMFAT-101 absorbed the assets of VMFAT-201 from MCAS Cherry Point, N.C. and became the largest fixed wing tactical jet squadron and the sole remaining F-4 training squadron in the Marine Corps. The Sharpshooters earned the 1976 CNO Aviation Safety Award, as well as the Commanding General Fleet Marine Forces Pacific Aviation Safety Award in 1978 and 1979 while it amassed over 30,000 mishap-free flight hours. The Sharpshooters continued to train aircrews in the venerable Phantom II and in 1983 earned the coveted Marine Corps Aviation Association Robert M. Hanson Award as the finest fighter squadron in Marine aviation. May 20, 1987, VMFAT-101 trained its last F-4 replacement aircrew; during July the squadron flew its remaining 10 F-4 aircraft to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., for permanent storage. During the 18 years VMFAT-101 flew the Phantom, the Sharpshooters amassed over 125,000 flight hours training Marine and Navy aircrews for the fleet.
Sept. 29, 1987, VMFAT-101 returned to MCAS El Toro to prepare for duty as the third F/A-18 Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). March 31, 1988, MCCRTG-10 deactivated and VMFAT-101 joined Marine Aircraft Group 11. By October of that year, 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 mishap/injury free.
Jan. 10, 1990, VMFAT-101 accepted its first two seat F/A-18D Hornet and began training aircrew for the transition into the Hornet. June 1990 the Sharpshooters had graduated over 150 Hornet aircrew, amassed over 28,000 F/A-18 A, B, C and D which originated from Lot VI to Lot XII. August 27, 1990, Lt.Col. “Cajun” Tullos flew the squadron’s 50,000 mishap-free flight hour. The Sharpshooters routinely deployed to MCAS Yuma Ariz., and MCAS Miramar Calif., for fighter weapons training detachments as well as every West Coast Aircraft Carrier for carrier qualifications.
Training At Long Beach Municipal Airport
VMFAT-101 had six FA-18C and D model fighter jets and seven student Marine aviators that needed to complete important basic air combat instruction before they were scheduled to start their aircraft carrier qualifications in October. Due to the Labor Day holiday and the closure of MCAS Miramar’s runways over the long weekend, VMFAT-101s only option was to base out of Long Beach Municipal Airport and conduct the required training from a civilian airport that was open and operational.
The Sharpshooters’ home for the next three days was the Signature/Aeroplex FOB located at 3333 East Spring Street on the southwest side of Long Beach Airport. Signature/Aeroplex was one of only two facilities at Long Beach Airport that could support the requirements of VMFAT-101. The squadron flies three simulated air to air engagements each day 80 – 100 miles off the coast of Long Beach in a training area known as Warning Area 291. The squadron uses non-operational ordinance so no live weapons are on the aircraft as they take off and land at Long Beach Airport.
Meet and Greet
On Saturday Sept. 5th, Signature/Aeroplex ramp was opened to the public from 2:00pm – 4:00pm. As Public Relations Manager Cindy Goodfellow for Signature/Aeroplex stated to the assembled crowd “Come and meet the noise”, referring to the six FA-18C sitting on the ramp. After a brief overview statement by Major John Vaquerano USMC about the reasons for VMFAT-101 invading the peace and quiet of the surrounding area during the Labor Day weekend, the Marines invited the hundreds of local area residences on the ramp for them to look at and watch four FA-18 fighter aircraft spool up their engines, watch the ground crews perform the safety checks on the aircraft, then watch them taxi out and take off in typical two by two military formation from runway 30. The sights and sounds were impressive and left many people with a great sense of pride. Those in attendance, that may have had some complaints about the noise generated from the aircraft, were no longer complaining. The meet and greet sponsored by the VMFAT-101, Long Beach Airport, EAA Chapter 7 and Signature/Aeroplex was a great success. Many young families that showed up with their small children in tow were grateful that Signature/Aeroplex opened their ramp to the public.
Future Training at Long Beach
The meet and greet was an important investment in community outreach, something that the United States Marine Corps excels in doing. This investment will likely go a long way in building local support for military aircraft operations at Long Beach since more visits by Marine Flight Attack Training Squadron VMFAT-101 and other military squadrons will likely be needed as future training requirements dictate.
Story by Scott Plummer