Irrespective of the circumstances, the US Marine Corps tactical aviation community is all about supporting troops in the field. It’s in their DNA. For VMA-214 ‘Black Sheep’, it’s a mission that spans 75 years and one that is set to continue well into the future.
There’s something very business-like about a Marine Corps fighter squadron. It’s all about getting the job done, often in the face of adversity. When it came to being able to operate close to the front line, from an amphibious assault ship or generating missions from a Forward Operating Base — hot refueling and pumping up the sortie rate — the British-designed Harrier appeared to fit the bill, but was far from a popular choice with its fair share of skeptics (and accidents) in the early days.
Lt Col Brett ‘Nilla’ McGregor is currently the commanding officer of the ‘Black Sheep’. Having flown the AV-8B since 2002, he is in no doubt as to the aircraft’s influence on Marine aviation. ‘When I started flying this airplane in 2002 I learned close air support [CAS] with freefall ordnance and having to look outside the cockpit to try and find the target in a dive,’ he says. ‘Fast-forward to today and we have an aircraft with an amazing [Litening] targeting pod, which can be carried under the wing but we prefer the centerline. We also have laser, GPS and dual-mode weapons, the gun and now we also have laser-guided rockets.’ McGregor calls the 500lb GBU-54 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) the Harrier’s ‘go to’ weapon — whereas in the past the Harrier was something of a blunt instrument, today’s mentality is ‘one target, one bomb’. ‘The new guys can’t comprehend the way we used to do things,’ smiles McGregor.
To find out more about Marine Corps Harrier operations, and about the ‘Black Sheep’, look for Combat Aircraft Feb 2018 issue, on sale from tomorrow.