Bringing back 1981

She once felt the wind rushing against her airframe as she was thrown with a controlled violence into the blues skies of the Pacific Ocean, off of the USS Midway CV-41.

Number 1981 was a McDonald Douglas RF-4B Phantom II, and a member of VMFP-3, a U.S. Marine Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron that was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and then rotating to the USS Midway.

Their mission was to conduct aerial, multi-sensor imagery reconnaissance to include aerial photographic, infrared, and side looking airborne radar reconnaissance in support of Fleet Marine Forces operations.

VMFP-3 was activated on July 1, 1975 as part of the3rd Marine Corps Aircraft Wing, stationed at MCAS El Toro, Orange County, California. The squadron was deactivated on 30 September 1990.

Photo and electronic reconnaissance had previously been conducted by three Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadrons (VMCJ-1, 2, 3) located at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. MCAS Cherry Point and MCAS El Toro respectively. These squadrons, (each flying RF-4Bs and EA-6As) were consolidated into two squadrons- VMAQ-2 at MCAS Cherry Point operating all the EA-6s, and VMFP-3 operating all the RF-4Bs. Each squadron would deploy detachments to Iwakuni to fly missions previously flown by VMCJ-1.

Overseas detachments, in addition to supporting FMF operations, continued the 7th fleet support started by VMCJ-1 in 1974. RF-4Bs of VMFP-3 were permanently deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway CV-41 from 1975 to 1984. A six-plane detachment operated as part of Carrier Air Wing, although retaining their own tail code “RF”.

In 1990 Marine tactical reconnaissance was taken over by the Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System carried by McDonnell Douglas F/A 18D Hornet aircraft of Marine fighter attack squadrons (VMFA). Consequently all RF-4Bs were retired and VMFP-3 was disbanded.

Back to our plane, 1981. It was a few months ago, and she was sitting in a back corner of the outside displays at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, and she’d been sitting there for awhile. One could see her from just inside the fence line along Miramar Road. The Museum is located at MCAS Miramar, San Diego, CA, but it’s by civilians (mostly retired Marines), and the Curator Steve Smith and his assistant Leon Simon, just happen to be across the street conducting business at a local shop, when they looked across the street, and 1981 was sticking out like a sore thumb. Her paint was faded, she was dirty, and a green mold was taking form.

Both Smith and Simon, jumped to action, they pulled 1981 off of the display grounds, and Simon and with several Marines, that different Commands sent over to the Museum’s hanger and started the process of removing all of her old paint, right down to the shiny new looking aluminum that was under that old paint job. Then the primer and new paint was added. The Marine Corps Community Services recreated the historical stickers that once graced this magnificent plane. She’s now back out on display where she belongs, looking just like the first day, the U.S. Marine Corps took possession of her.


Written by Doug Aguillard


Douglas Aguillard

Douglas (Doug) Aguillard is a Freelance Photojournalist who specializes in the Military & Aviation fields. Based in San Diego, CA, he is a Marine veteran., He currently is a photojournalist for the Military Press Newspaper, the Historical / Archival Dept. photographer for the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar, and a very proud member of Photo Recon, and has been published in various magazines and books such as "Combat Aircraft Monthly" magazine, "Vertical " magazine, "Wings of Gold" magazine, Sikorsky Frontlines newsletter, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum's Book: "Celebrating the San Diego Air & Space Museum: A History of the Museum and it's collections".

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