Military Aviation

VMAT-203 sundown ceremony today. It is the only active unit to train pilots to fly the AV-8B Harrier for the USMC.

VMAT-203 was established in 1972 and in 1983 was tasked with the mission of training Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier pilots.

As the US Marine Corps (USMC) transitions to fly the F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point is marking the end of a nearly 40-year era as the AV-8 Harrier nears full decommissioning.

According to ABC 15 News, on Oct. 29, 2021 at 10 a.m. Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 (VMAT-203) “Hawks” will hold a sundown ceremony at the unit hangar at MCAS Cherry Point.

The ceremony, that marks the end of the squadron’s Marine Corps service, will be open to the public.

VMAT-203 was established in 1972 and in 1983 was tasked with the mission of training Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier pilots.

The squadron trained aviators and maintenance personnel and operated a mix of AV-8Bs and two-seat TAV-8Bs. The role of training all Marine Corps Harrier pilots was entrusted to the “Hawks” of VMAT-203.

Before receiving the Harrier jump jet, the squadron flew the venerable A-4 Skyhawk. The arrival of V/STOL aviation instituted another era for VMAT-203. The squadron’s A-4 Skyhawks were retired and VMAT-203 became the AV-8A/C training squadron as part of Marine Aircraft Group 32. In December 1983, the first AV-8B Harrier II was delivered, and until March 1985, VMAT-203 was assigned the dual missions of training both AV-8A/C pilot and AV-8B replacement aircrews. Having trained its last AV-8A/C pilot in March 1985, VMAT-203’s exclusive mission then became the training of AV-8B aircrews and maintenance personnel.

Over the past three years, VMAT-203 has trained 53 Harrier pilots, flown more than 12,000 flight hours, and participated in eight instructor and student training deployments.

VMAT-203 will transition to a Fleet Replacement Detachment assigned to Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223 and will continue training Marines until the Harrier is fully decommissioned.

Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki / US 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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