Washington D.C. Fetes Marine Corps Aviation’s 100th Anniversary

A pair of events celebrated the U.S. Marine Corps’ first 100 years of aviation in the nation’s capital during the month of May, 2012.

Officially, the dawn of  Marine Corps Aviation broke on May 22, 1912 when 1st Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham reported for duty at the Naval Aviation Camp at Annapolis Maryland.  Soon, he travelled to the Burgess Company and Curtis, Inc. (no, not the Glenn Curtiss company) of Marblehead Massachusetts for flight training.

Burgess produced licensed  copies of the Wright Model B Flyer and this is where Lt. Cunningham received his ground training and where he first soloed on August 20th, 1912. Almost 100 years to the official day, on May 16, 2012, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos presided over a sunset wreath-laying ceremony that included plenty of ceremonial music and marching by the Marine Barracks Washington D.C. bands, drill team and color guard.

Speeches were given by the Deputy Commandant for Aviation. Lt. General Terry Robling, who gave an overview of accomplishments and the future of Marine Corps Aviation.  The Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, also spoke and drew a round of applause when, towards the end of his speech, he discussed the future of the F-35 fighter and said that “The Marines need a fifth generation fighter and they will have it!”

A wreath honoring those in Marine Corps aviation was laid at the foot of the Marine Corps War Memorial (otherwise known as the Iwo Jima Memorial) by the Secretary and both of the aforementioned Generals.  An “aerial review”  containing ten aircraft used by today’s Marines then roared overhead, containing the following types: UH-1N, AH-1W, CH-46E, and CH-53E helicopters, C-130J and MV-22 transports, and F/A-18C, F/A-18D, EA-6B and AV-8B tactical jets.

This was a rather intimate gathering, with about a thousand invited guests and spectators spread out about a cool, tree lined parade ground near the Marine’s monument. Marine Aviation was in the forefront  of people’s minds again a few days later, when huge crowds listened to General Amos as he addressed the Joint Services Open House at Joint Base Andrews Maryland. The General gave a five minute talk about Marine Corps Aviation over the years, and noted with satisfaction that the huge landmark water tower aboard the base had the Marines emblem emblazoned across one side… something new since the former Air Force Base has been re-designated as a Joint Base.

The once-annual air show (now biennial, skipping next year) hosted both a Marine AV-8B Harrier and an MV-22 Osprey flight demonstration.  The Blue Angels performed at the end of each daily show; their ranks contain the squadron’s Marine-crewed C-130 support aircraft (this show was attended by the all-gray colored “Ernie” aircraft instead of the yellow and blue Fat Albert – “Bert”), as well as a pair of Marine F/A-18 Hornet pilots.

Other Marine aircraft were on static display at the show, including a soon-to-be retired type, the Boeing CH-46 “Battle Phrog”. “Marine Corps aviation exists almost entirely to support the troops on the ground” is a  common phrase which defines the job Marine aircrew are tasked with.  That phrase, or similar words were repeated at both of the events in Washington D.C..

One of the most galvanizing testimonials of Marine aviation was uttered by Secretary Panetta though, when he said that “…whatever the hell we’re flying at the end of the next 100 years, there’ll be one tough SOB Marine flying it!”.

Happy birthday Marine Corps aviation, good luck in your next century of flight.

Ken Kula May, 2012

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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