An air squadron that for 50 years has been training pilots to fly F/A-18 Hornets was decommissioned at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar during a “sundowner ceremony” on Friday, marking the end of an era for the Department of the Navy.
For more than 50 years, instructor pilots of the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101, or VMFAT-101, Sharpshooters have qualified combat aviators and sent them to squadrons around the world. The sundown commemorates the squadron’s history and contributions to Marine Corps readiness since its commissioning in 1969 when instructors first taught pilots to fly the F-4 Phantom II.
“As a former commanding officer of the Sharpshooters, I can attest to the squadron’s direct impact on the Marine Corps’ operational readiness today,” Brig. Gen. Robert Brodie, 3rd Marine Air Wing Assistant Wing Commander, said. “VMFAT-101 has shaped a critical element of naval aviation for a half-century, and the Marines and sailors of the squadron remain pivotal in preserving that warfighting legacy and transitioning to the next generation of combat aviation.”
The ceremony began with a tradition called “Flying the Barn,” where 18 F-18 pilots flew maneuvers in formation before a crowd of onlookers. The sundowner ceremony followed and included comments from Brodie and others. Looking on were retired squadron commanders and others from the air wing.
The event also included a traditional casing of colors where the honors and awards the squadron received through various conflicts and wars were ceremonially stashed away. The squadron also received multiple awards for its safety record flying thousands of hours without accidents.
Its decommissioning marks the end of an era as the last squadron in the Department of the Navy that trained F-18 pilots.
“Thousands of our aircrews have passed through the halls of (the) 101,” Brodie said. “They learned air-to-air combat and air-to-ground combat. Many have hurled themselves at the back of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the night with a pitching deck.”
The squadron’s personnel and aircraft will transition to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 at Miramar and continue training F-18 pilots while the Marine squadrons finish the transition to the new-age F-35 fighters. The air wing has two F-18 fighter squadrons and six F-35 squadrons.
The F-18 fighters are scheduled to continue their service until 2030. In the meantime, the Department of Defense continues to invest in maintaining the storied fighter, which, Marine officials said, is complimentary to the F-35.