Aviation History

[Video] VMFAT-101 F/A-18 Hornets “Fly the Barn” 18 Ship Formation to honor SharpShooters legacy on the day of the Squadron Deactivation

VMFAT-101 SharpShooters F/A-18 Hornets Formation for the Squadron Deactivation

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) deactivated Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 101, a historic F/A-18 Hornet training squadron, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., on Sep. 29, 2023.

As told in the article Marine Corps deactivates historic F/A-18 training squadron appeared on DVIDS, since 1969, instructor pilots of the VMFAT-101 “SharpShooters” have qualified combat aviators and sent them to operational squadrons worldwide.

Flying the barn

As the video in this post shows, the squadron commemorated the event by “flying the barn,” launching 18 aircraft in a single flight. More than 300 Marines, Sailors, veterans, family members and community supporters then gathered for a sundown ceremony to commemorate the squadron’s history and contributions to Marine Corps readiness.

US Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 101, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conduct a mass formation launch known as “flying the barn,” to honor the squadron’s legacy on the day of its deactivation at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Sep. 29, 2023. For more than 50 years, instructor pilots of the VMFAT-101 “SharpShooters” have qualified combat aviators and sent them to operational squadrons worldwide. 

“Pilots come to VMFAT-101, cut their teeth, and are transformed into aviation warriors,” said Col. William J. Mitchell, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd MAW.

The only remaining F/A-18 Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron

Since October 2019, VMFAT-101 has trained Navy and Marine Corps aviators as the only remaining F/A-18 Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron in the Department of the Navy.

“Thousands of aircrew have passed through the halls of VMFAT-101—fighter pilots, fighter radar intercept officers, fighter weapon systems officers, and it’s bigger than that,” said Brig. Gen. Robert B. Brodie, Assistant Wing Commander of 3rd MAW. “This squadron has trained more maintenance Marines than any other in the Marine Corps. It’s a holistic approach to ensure we are ready to fight and win.”

he training mission of VMFAT-101 will transfer to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 323, a 3rd MAW operational squadron at MCAS Miramar. As outlined in the 2022 Marine Corps Aviation Plan, the Hornet will continue to operate and provide combat capability until its complete transition to the F-35 Lighting II in 2030.

US Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 101, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, conduct a mass formation launch known as “flying the barn,” to honor the squadron’s legacy on the day of its deactivation at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Sep. 29, 2023.

VMFAT-101 SharpShooters

According to a 3rd MAW news release, VMFAT-101 was commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California, on Jan. 3, 1969, as part of the Marine Combat Crew Readiness Training Group 10, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The squadron trained Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers in the employment of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. VMFAT-101 flew its first training sortie on Feb. 20, 1969, and completed its first class of fighter aircrew by August of that year.

During the summer of 1970, VMFAT-101 relocated to MCAS Yuma, Arizona. In 1972, the SharpShooters earned their first Chief of Naval Operations CNO Aviation Safety Award for Excellence in aviation safety after compiling over 18,300 mishap-free flight hours.

Absorbing the assets of VMFAT-201

In July 1974, VMFAT-101 absorbed the assets of VMFAT-201 from MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina, and became the largest fixed-wing tactical jet squadron and the sole remaining F-4 training squadron in the Marine Corps. The SharpShooters earned the 1976 CNO Aviation Safety Award and the CG Fleet Marine Forces Pacific Aviation Safety Award in 1978 and 1979, while it amassed over 30,000 mishap-free flight hours. The SharpShooters continued to train aircrew in the venerable Phantom II and, in 1983, earned the coveted MCAA Robert M. Hanson Award as the finest fighter squadron in Marine Aviation.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.  F/A-18B Hornet VMFAT-101 SharpShooters, SH215 / 163115 – Medal of Honor. MAG-11, MAW-3, MCAS Miramar, CA – 2014

On May 20, 1987, VMFAT-101 trained its last F-4 replacement aircrew, and in July, the squadron flew its remaining 10 F-4 aircraft to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, for permanent storage. During the 18 years that VMFAT-101 flew the Phantom, the SharpShooters amassed over 125,000 flight hours training Marine and Navy aircrew for the fleet.

The Marine Corps’ dedicated F/A-18 Fleet Replacement Squadron

On Sep. 29, 1987, VMFAT-101 returned to MCAS El Toro to prepare for duty as the Marine Corps’ dedicated F/A-18 Fleet Replacement Squadron. On Mar. 31, 1988, MCCRTG-10 was deactivated and VMFAT-101 joined Marine Aircraft Group 11. By October of that year, the SharpShooters owned 21 F/A-18s, trained 25 qualified instructor pilots, and were ready to introduce new Hornet pilots. By May 1989, VFMAT-101 graduated 23 new F/A-18 pilots and had accumulated over 11,000 mishap-free Hornet flight hours.

On Jan. 10, 1990, VMFAT-101 accepted its first two seat F/A-18D night attack Hornets and began training aircrew for the transition of the Marine Corps’ A-6E Intruder squadrons into the Hornet. On Oct. 1, 1998, following a Base Realignment and Closure Act directed change of duty station, VMFAT-101 moved to MCAS Miramar, CA.

In July 2019, VMFAT-101 executed their last carrier qualifying detachment aboard the USS Nimitz (CV 68).

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Three times the number of aircraft of a typical F/A-18 squadron

With three times the number of aircraft of a typical F/A-18 squadron, VMFAT-101 could produce 40 replacement pilots in addition to refreshing numerous former fleet aviators that were out of currency. With the replacement of the A-6 Intruder in the Marine Corps with the twin-seat F/A-18D Hornet, VMFAT-101 also returned to training USMC naval flight officers, in this case as F/A-18D weapon systems officers in addition to training USMC naval aviators as pilots in both single-seat and twin-seat variants of the Hornet.

Just as importantly, VMFAT-101 has groomed Marine Corps and Navy maintenance personnel. With such a large number of aircraft, a significant number of people earned critical maintenance qualifications and assumed leadership positions while they were with the SharpShooters.

For over 50 years, VMFAT-101 has been to shape the future of Naval Aviation. Each year, VMFAT-101 qualifies combat aviators in the F/A-18 and sends them to operational squadrons worldwide.

Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Samantha Devine / 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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