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Photo Information

U.S. Marine Corps 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, March 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. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Daisha Ramirez)

Photo by Staff Sgt. Daisha Ramirez

40+ years of legacy: U.S. Marine Corps graduates its last two AV-8B Harrier II student pilots

9 Apr 2024 | 2nd Lt. John Graham 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

The U.S. Marine Corps graduated its last two student pilots from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) AV-8B Harrier II Fleet Replacement Detachment (FRD) after completing the AV-8B Harrier II training syllabus at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, March 29, 2024, marking another milestone as the service transitions from legacy tactical-aircraft (TACAIR) platforms to the F-35 Lightning II.

Capt. Joshua Corbett, a native of Mendham, New Jersey, and Capt. Sven Jorgensen, a native of Lewisburg, Tennessee, completed their final training flight at the 2nd MAW AV-8B Harrier II FRD and became the last two Marines to receive the 7509 military occupational specialty, which is reserved for AV-8B Harrier II qualified pilots. In addition to marking a milestone for the Marine Corps’ transition to the F-35 Lightning II, the culmination of their training represents a significant event in the Harrier’s legacy.

More than 40 years ago, the arrival of the first AV-8B Harrier II to 2nd MAW in January 1984 represented the peak of technical innovation at the time. The platform’s predecessor, the British-built AV-8A Harrier, entered the Marine Corps inventory in 1971. The aircraft’s vertical and short-takeoff and landing (VSTOL) capability created a new approach to operating tactical aircraft, allowing them to operate from not only smaller amphibious ships, but also from relatively unprepared and dispersed sites ashore in the battlespace. The second version of the platform, the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II, afforded twice the range or payload of the AV-8A with the same VSTOL capability.

After commissioning and completion of The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Corbett and Jorgensen reported to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, for introductory-level flight school. They then began flight training on the T-6 Texan II aircraft at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. After successfully completing this portion of their training, they began training on the T-45 Goshawk. After completing their training on the T-45, Jorgensen and Corbett were designated as naval aviators and sent to the FRD to begin training on the AV-8B Harrier II in October and November 2022, respectively.

Until 2021, pilots that were to be trained on the AV-8B Harrier were sent to the Fleet Replacement Squadron, Marine Attack Training Squadron (VMAT) 203, aboard MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina. VMAT-203 was deactivated Oct. 29, 2021, in accordance with Force Design initiatives and transitioned to an FRD under Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd MAW, with sourced aircraft from Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223.

According to many of its pilots, the aircraft’s VSTOL capabilities also mean that it is more difficult to learn to operate compared to other TACAIR platforms. The replacement pilot training syllabus remained one of the longest and more difficult fleet replacement syllabuses in the Marine Corps. Corbett’s and Jorgensen’s training at the FRD began with the familiarization syllabus. However, familiarization with the Harrier is different from familiarization with other platforms in the Marine Corps due to its VSTOL capability.

“The biggest difference for us is the familiarization syllabus that we start off with,” said Jorgensen. “In the Harrier, we have to completely relearn how to fly because of its vertical takeoff-and-landing capabilities.”

After that, according to Jorgensen, Harrier FRD students underwent the same phased approach to operating the aircraft as other TACAIR pilots.

This approach has been used to train scores of Harrier pilots for over 40 years. Their final flight, which was a low-altitude close-air support training sortie, represented the culmination of their training at the FRD and the significance of close-air support to pilots in the Harrier community.

“As every Marine knows, the infantry is always the main effort,” said Corbett when asked about close-air support’s significance to Harrier pilots. “That 19 year old, that 20 year old with a rifle who’s in harm’s way… that’s the whole reason that the rest of the Marine Corps exists, to support that Marine. Close-air support is the most direct way that we, as Harrier pilots, can influence that fight in favor of that Marine.”

In their more than 40-year history, 2nd MAW Harriers have supported numerous operations across the globe, including Operation Desert Storm, Operation Allied Force in 1999 in the former Yugoslavia, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, creating a legacy of providing support from the air. The Harrier, and the pilots that fly them, will continue to call MCAS Cherry Point home until the platform fully transitions out of the Marine Corps in September 2026. Harrier squadrons will continue to execute deployed operations as part of Marine Expeditionary Units.

As part of Force Design initiatives, the Marine Corps will continue its transition from the AV-8B Harrier to the F-35. The F-35B Lightning II is the short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35, and much like the Harrier, the STOVL capability allows the F-35B to operate from amphibious assault ships and expeditionary airstrips less than 2,000 feet long. Corbett’s and Jorgensen’s designation represents another milestone in 2nd MAW’s continued operational transition from legacy fixed-wing TACAIR platforms to the F-35.

“The next step is to learn how to use the jet in combat,” said Jorgensen. “It’s been an honor to be here, and I’m looking forward to flying it for the next few years.”

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing