Tag Archives: VMA-231

Once upon a time: Marine AV-8A Harriers Testing Sea Control Ship Concept

We’ve covered the trials and deployment of a Marine Hawker Siddeley AV-8A Harrier squadron, the Aces of VMA-231, on the Iwo Jima-class phib USS Guam (LPH-9) in 1976 on numerous occasions.

Part of CNO Elmo Zumwalt’s “Sea Control Ship” concept that would provide a Cold War-era evolution to the escort carrier concept for convoy protection and ASW hunter-killer teams, the basic idea was to turn these small (18,000-tons, 592-feet oal) flattops into economical CVEs overnight through the fly-on of a Harrier det for air defense/surface strike and a Sea King SH-3 ASW/SAR element.

The technology was there, with Harrier making its first test landings on British flattops as far back as 1963, the RAF’s GR1 entering service in 1969, and the Royal Navy ordering its first two dozen navalised 24 Sea Harrier FRS.1 (Fighter, Reconnaissance, Strike) aircraft in 1975.

Hawker P1127 making the first ever vertical landing by a jet aircraft an a carrier at sea on HMS Ark Royal in February 1963. IWM A 34711

Of course, Zumwalt wanted some dedicated SCS hulls, but, barring the shipbuilding dollars, the Iwo Jimas could work in a pinch.

Planned Sea Control Ship concept, art

Planned Sea Control Ship concept, model

Sea control ship outline, Janes ’73

The entry for Iwo Jima-class LPH USS Guam as an interim sea control ship in the 1973-74 Jane’s

Well, prior to VMA-231 shipping out on Guam, the Marines ran an extensive evaluation trial in March 1971 on her sister, USS Guadalcanal (LPH-7). I recently came across about 30 minutes of color footage from those trials, involving the “Flying Nightmares” of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 513, from MACS Beaufort– the first American Harrier squadron– in the National Archives.

Check out this screengrab:

Now that’s a beautiful aircraft. Dig those full-color roundels and the Marine crest. The British-made AV-8A was essentially the same as the RAF’s Harrier GR.1 with very few changes. Keep in mind the first Marine Harrier arrived in the USA on 21 January 1971, just two months before this trial, and the last was delivered in November 1976. 

The videos show ordnance in play, lots of short take-offs and vertical landings of camouflaged early British-built AV-8As, and even some night operations.



Happy President’s Day! CV-42 edition

An F-4N Phantom II (BuNo. 151008) of Fighter Squadron (VF) 111, the “Sundowners,” part of Carrier Air Wing 19 (CVW-19), launching from the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV 42) operating in the Mediterranean Sea. This marked the final cruise for the aging Midway-class carrier, the first named for a President of the United States.

This photo was taken 45 years ago this month, in February 1977.

U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1996.253.7279.033

While the above was a magnificent photo of a beautiful full-color bird, there were lots of changes on the way.

On 30 June 1977, CVW-19 was disestablished.

FDR decommissioned on 30 September 1977 and was later sold for scrap.

As noted by Bob Hill of FDR’s 76-77 cruise:

It was a deployment of lasts (and a first)

The Sundowners, “Illegitimus Non-Carborundum,” was disestablished in 1995, although the aggressor squadron, VFC-111, continues the unit’s traditions if not its lineage, down at NAS Key West.

Even BuNo. 151008, the Phantom above, is listed as “Crashed with VF-171 off Norfolk, VA Nov 20, 1978.”

However, on my desk is a well-worn but tangible reminder of Big Frankie.


FDR’s Ace of Spades

45 Years Ago Today:

Official caption: “Mediterranean Sea. U.S. Marine Corporal J.E. Goldsburg cleans the windshield of an AV-8A Harrier Advanced Vertical Take-Off and Landing Close Support Aircraft on the flight deck of USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV 42).”

Photographed by PH3 Greg Haas, November 9, 1976. U.S. Navy Photograph, 428-GX-USN 116818, now in the collections of the National Archives

The shot was taken during VMA-231’s Bicentennial Med cruise which saw the Ace of Spade’s squadron integrate their brand-new Hawker Siddeley-made early model Harriers with Carrier Air Wing 19 in regular operations.

After stops in Spain, Italy, Sicily, Kenya, and Egypt, the Aces cross-decked to the amphibious assault ship USS Guam (LPH-9), which at the time was the testbed for the ADM Zumwalt’s Sea Control Ship concept. Guam, acting as one of the world’s first “Harrier Carriers,” would pass through the Red Sea and participate in Kenya’s Jamhuri Day Independence celebration.

USS Guam (LPH-9) with AV-8A Harriers, 12.9.76. Note the four airborne Harriers in a diamond formation, flown by VMA-231 “Ace of Spades” squadron Marines, and at least five more on deck. Catalog #: USN 1169189

As for the Aces of VMA-231, they are one of the last Harrier operators in the world.

The more things change…

U.S. Marine Cpl. Blake R. Phillips, a power line mechanic with Marine Attack Squadron 231, maintains an AV-8B Harrier II, Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, March 5, 2013. Phillips maintains aircraft as part of his daily inspections. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia/Released)

Harrier Carrier, 1976

As we did Warship Wednesday on a Monday this week, try these historical maritime shots on for size, taken 44 years ago today.

Official Caption: “USS GUAM (LPH-9) Operating with Marine AV-8A Harrier VTOL aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea, 9 December 1976, she drew these planes from USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT for her goodwill visit to Kenya.”

Note the four airborne Harriers in a diamond formation, flown by VMA-231 “Ace of Spades” squadron Marines, and at least five more on deck. Catalog #: USN 1169189

Guam, a 17,000-ton Iwo Jima-class large amphibious transport (helo), commissioned 16 January 1965 and had already been extensively used by the Navy, first off the Dominican Republic in the intervention there, then in the space program.

Marine AV-8A Harrier of VMA-513 hovering over USS Guam (LPH-9) 1972

Importantly, she had served between 1971 and 1973 as the Interim Sea Control Ship, derived from ADM Elmo Zumwalt’s idea for a 15,000-ton light carrier equipped with Sea Kings for ASW and Harriers for self-defense/anti-shipping, which made her ideal for embarking the V/STOL craft once again in squadron-quantity in 1976.

The entry for Guam as sea control ship in the 1973-74 Jane’s

USS Guam (LPH-9) Underway in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Africa, on 9 December 1976. Her crew is forming KENYA 76 on the flight deck in conjunction with her visit to Mombasa, Kenya for the celebration of that nation’s independence. Adams-class destroyer USS Claude V. Ricketts (DDG-5) is steaming in company. Guam is shown carrying 13 AV-8A Harrier jet aircraft and two Marine CH-53D helicopters on her flight deck. FDR had deployed with 14, meaning one Harrier is either airborne or below-deck. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Photographer: PH3 Greg Haas, Atlantic Fleet Audio Visual Command. NH 107675

Guam would go on to serve off Somalia and in the first Gulf War, then was decommissioned and stricken on the same day, 25 August 1998, and disposed of as a target three years later.

As for the accident-prone AV-8As, derived from the original British Hawker Siddeley aircraft, the Marines purchased 102 AV-8A and 8 TAV-8A models between 1971 (just two years after the Harrier GR.1 entered service with the RAF) and 1976, later replacing them with the larger, marginally safer, more advanced, and more American-built McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II in the mid-1980s.

Which brings us back to the Aces of VMA-231, who are still flying the Harrier today, one of the few who are.

Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 231 “Ace of Spades” AV-8B+ at Boca Chica Field, NAS Key West, Dec.1, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Danette Baso Silvers