Military Aviation

All good things must come to an end: USMC marks graduation of last AV-8B Harrier II pilots

Graduation of last USMC AV-8B Harrier II pilots

The AV-8B Harrier II Fleet Replacement Detachment (FRD), Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), graduated the final two pilots to receive the 7509 Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, on Mar. 29, 2024.

In order to receive the 7509 MOS, which is reserved for AV-8B Harrier II qualified pilots, Capt. Joshua Corbett and Capt. Sven Jorgensen completed their final training flight at the FRD. The flight, a low-altitude close air support training sortie, represents the culmination of the US Marine Corps (USMC)’s training at the FRD.

“The significance of the last replacement pilot training flight in the Harrier community is that it is the beginning of the end for us as a community.” said Corbett to 2nd Lt. John Graham, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, for the article 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines receive last AV-8B Harrier pilot designation. “The Harrier, more than many aircraft than I have come across, elicits an emotional response. For members of the public, members of the aviation community, members of the Marine community, and especially members of the Harrier pilot community, it’s bittersweet. All good things have to come to an end, and it’s our turn soon, but not yet.”

The AV-8B Harrier II

VMA-223 AV-8B Harrier II

The AV-8B vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) strike aircraft was designed to replace the AV-8A and the A-4M light attack aircraft. The Marine Corps requirement for a V/STOL light attack force has been well documented since the late 1950s. Combining tactical mobility, responsiveness, reduced operating cost and basing flexibility, both afloat and ashore, V/STOL aircraft are particularly well suited to the special combat and expeditionary requirements of the Marine Corps. The AV-8BII+ features the APG-65 Radar common to the F/A-18, as well as all previous systems and features common to the AV-8BII.

The first AV-8B Harrier II arrived at MCAS Cherry Point in January 1984. In their 40-year presence in the eastern North Carolina region, 2nd MAW Harriers, and the 7509s that pilot them, have supported numerous operations across the globe, including Operation Desert Storm, Operation Allied Force in 1999 in the former Yugoslavia, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and in the skies above the volatile Red Sea against Houthi drone threats.

Corbett’s and Jorgensen’s designation represents 2nd MAW’s continued operational transition from legacy fixed-wing tactical aircraft, such as the Harrier.

Last USMC AV-8B Harrier II pilots hit the fleet

The F-35B Lightning II is replacing the Harrier within USMC. Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223 will be the last Harrier squadron in the Marine Corps and is set to continue operating the platform through September 2026. Until then, the platform will continue to call MCAS Cherry Point home and execute deployed operations as part of Marine Expeditionary Units.

“I am incredibly proud of the legacy of the AV-8B, both within Marine Aviation and here in eastern North Carolina.” said Lt. Col. Nathaniel Smith, the Commanding Officer of VMA-223. “Our platform is part of the fabric of eastern North Carolina, as countless Marines, sailors, and civilians have contributed to our success for decades. It is exciting to see our last two students graduate from the FRD and hit the fleet.”

Both pilots will report to VMA-223 after completing the FRD syllabus.

USMC Capt. Joshua Corbett, a native of New Jersey and a student naval aviator with the AV-8B Fleet Replacement Detachment (FRD), poses for a photo prior to a flight at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Mar. 27, 2024. Corbett is one of the two final Marines to receive the 7509 military occupational specialty, AV-8B Harrier II jet pilot, as the Marine Corps transitions from the AV-8B II Harrier jet legacy tactical aircraft to the F-35 Lightning II jet.

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Daisha Ramirez, Petty Officer 3rd Class Tamara Vaughn and Staff Sgt. Theodore Bergan / U.S. Marine Corps

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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