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Marine Corps honors aviation centennial with year-long celebration

By Lance Cpl. Christofer P. Baines | | May 17, 2011

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This year the Marine Corps is celebrating its 100th year in aviation, leaving behind a legacy of accomplishment and looking forward to a bright future. From May 2011 to May 2012, the Corps will celebrate its aviation heritage.

Events such as open houses, air shows and other community outreach efforts will be hosted Corpswide throughout the year, demonstrating a century of aerial excellence.

The theme for this year in celebration is “100 years of putting the ‘A’ in MAGTF,” highlighting the organic role of aviation in Marine Corps combat doctrine.

From Alfred A. Cunningham’s first flight as a Marine aviator in 1912, to the MV-22B Osprey driven helicopter raids in today’s battlespace, the Corps’ air capabilities have evolved to support the individual Marine.

“The Marine Corps has shown that it’s always at the forward edge in aviation units,” said Capt. Brian T. Block, a Headquarters Marine Corps spokesperson.

Close air support and vertical envelopment are essential to our expeditionary objectives, where Marines will have to operate in austere environments, he said. Marines have continued to adapt and evolve, especially with newer short take-off, vertical landing aircraft.

In its infancy, Marine Corps aviation had to fight for its very existence. The 1st Marine Aviation Force, lead by Cunningham,  demonstrated its abilities in World War I by flying close air support missions, as well as anti-submarine patrols. The post-World War I years left the Corps facing budget cuts and other woes, but that did not stop them from fighting from the skies.

During the Banana Wars, Marine aviators saw action throughout the Caribbean and Central America. It was there that Marine pilots perfected close air support and integrated it into doctrine. In July 1927, a squadron of five Marine aircraft successfully dive-bombed Sandinista rebels in Ocotal, Nicaragua. Less than a year later, Medal of Honor recipient 1st Lt. Christian F. Schilt performed aerial medical evacuations in the town of Quilali after Marines on the ground were surrounded by several hundred Sandinista rebels.

In World War II, Marine aviators demonstrated their agility and resolve as they battled Imperial Japanese forces in the sky, sinking ships and providing close air support to their counterparts on the ground. Fighting high in the skies of Wake Island and over tree lines throughout the Pacific, another chapter of history was forged by men in the cockpit, and the crews on the ground that kept them aloft.

The breakthrough of vertical envelopment, or insertion by helicopter was applied in 1951 during the Korean War when Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 transported 224 Marines to Hill 884 during Operation Summit. The corps has applied this concept in every conflict since.

In an age of new and emerging technology, the Marine Corps continues to make aviation history with accomplishments like the first intercontinental Osprey flight in April. The Osprey itself is a hallmark with its hybrid fixed and rotary wing capabilities, allowing Marines to get to the fight faster without the need for a runway.

Additionally, the Corps is looking to replace the venerable F/A-18 Super Hornet and AV-8B Harrier with the advanced F-35B (STOVL). The Joint Strike Fighter has advantages in short take-off, vertical landing, a stealthy airframe and an advanced integrated helmet that makes flying more intuitive and simple for pilots.

“The F-35B is the tactical aircraft we need to support our Marine Air Ground Task Force from now until the middle of this century,” said Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps. “Our requirement for expeditionary tactical aircraft has been demonstrated repeatedly since the inception of Marine aviation."

In the past 100 years, Marines have gone beyond land and sea to become a dominant force from every angle. The Corps’ innovation and implementation in close air support and vertical envelopment have revolutionized modern warfare, and allowed Marines to claim victories worldwide. As the dawn of Marine Corps Aviation Centennial approaches, Marines will be reminded of their aviation heritage.

“It is our goal this year to honor our rich aviation history,” said Block. “As Marines we need to be conscious that we’re an air, ground team. It’s that relationship that makes us so successful wherever we are.”


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