The units at both New River and Cherry Point combine to form the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), one of three MEFs in the Marine Corps. I MEF is in California and 3 MEF is based in Okinawa, Japan. The MEF is a combined force consisting of ground, air and logistical forces. It possesses the capability to project offensive combat power ashore whilst also sustaining itself in combat without external assistance for a period of up to 60 days. With more than 62,000 Marines and sailors, 2 MEF is the largest and most powerful Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) of the three. 2 MEF is comprised of a ground combat element (the 2nd Marine Division), an aviation combat element (2nd Marine Aircraft Wing) and a combat service support element (2nd Marine Logistics Group). While 2 MEF is included within the operational force structure of Marine Corps Forces Command (MARFORCOM) and engages in operations and exercises throughout the MARFORCOM area, it routinely commits operating forces in support of other U.S and NATO commands. 2 MEF is in fact available for and prepared to respond to contingency requirements worldwide.

The MEF can be employed in its entirety or has the capability of forming task-organized Marine Air/Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) of lesser size such as a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), a MAGTF about one-third the size of a MEF built around a regimental landing team or a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a MAGTF about one-third the size of a MEB built around a battalion landing team. The size and composition of any MAGTF will be dependent upon the mission assigned. The routinely deployed MAGTFs, the 22nd, 24th and 26th MEU's, deploy on a rotating basis to be a Unified Combat Commander’s force in readiness. The MEU consisting of approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors, is capable of rapid response in a variety of possible contingencies and if the situation requires, can serve as the forward element of a larger MAGTF.

The Light Attack (HMLA) units at New River and Cherry Point seem to transfer aircraft between themselves on a regular basis
The units often operating aircraft carrying the markings of one of the other squadrons, as with the AH-1W above in HMLA-167 markings

Units based at MCAS Cherry Point:
McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (VMA-223, VMA-231, VMA-542, VMAT-203)
McDonnell-Douglas TAV-8B Harrier II (VMAT-203)
Grumman EA-6B Prowler (VMAQ-1, VMAQ-2, VMAQ -3, VMAQ-4)
Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion (HMH-366)
Bell AH-1W Super Cobra & Bell UH-1N/Y (HMLA-467)
Lockheed KC-130J Hercules (VMGR-252)

Douglas C-9B Skytrain and Cessna UC-35D (VMR-1)

Alongside the AH-1W in the HMLA squadrons is the Bell-Textron UH-1Y Venom utility helicopter. The UH-1Y is a modernised version of the UH-1N design. Its most noticeable upgrade over previous variants is the four-bladed, composite rotor system designed to withstand ballistics up to 23 mm. A 21-inch (530 mm) insert just forward of the main door has also been installed to provide more capacity. The UH-1Y features upgraded engines and transmission, a digital 'glass cockpit' that features multifunction displays and an 84% parts commonality with the new AH-1Z Cobra. Compared to the UH-1N, the Y-model has an almost 125% increased payload, almost 50% greater range, a reduction in vibration, and higher cruise speed. The Lockheed-Martin targeting sight system (TSS) incorporates a third-generation FLIR sensor. The TSS provides target sighting in day, night or adverse weather conditions. The system has various view modes and can track with FLIR or by TV. The same system is also used on the AH-1Z Viper and the KC-130J Harvest HAWK.

A HMLA-269 'Gunrunners' Bell AH-1W Super Cobra sits on the light-attack ramps at MCAS New River
As mentioned above, the HMLA squadrons comprise a composite of AH-1 and UH-1 helicopters

The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey was designed as a joint-service, multi-role combat aircraft, utilizing tilt-rotor technology to combine the vertical performance of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. With its engine nacelles and rotors in vertical position, it can take off, land and hover like a helicopter. Once airborne, its engine nacelles can be rotated to convert the aircraft to a turbo-prop airplane capable of high-speed, high-altitude flight. This combination allows the V-22 to fill an operational niche no other aircraft can approach. The Osprey can carry 24 combat troops, or up to 20,000 pounds of internal cargo, or 15,000 pounds of external cargo, at twice the speed of a helicopter. It features a cross-coupled drive system so either engine can power the rotors if one engine fails. For shipboard compatibility, the rotors fold and the wing rotates to minimize the aircraft’s footprint for storage.

The U.S Marine Corps has a current requirement for 360 MV-22s to perform combat assault and assault support missions. The MV-22B has replaced the CH-46E Sea Knight in Marine Corps service and serves with both east and west coast units. Despite its reputation as being unreliable and of not meeting safety standards, according to Naval Safety Center records, the MV-22 has one of the lowest 'Class A' mishap rates of any tactical rotorcraft in the Marine Corps over the past decade.

Opposite the ramp of VMAQ-2 is its sister unit Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 3 (VMAQ-3) 'Moondogs'
#163032 bears the familiar 'MD' tail code to good effect

After spending some time with the Osprey units we move on to the heavy-lift ramps and the mighty Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion. Three heavy-lift squadrons currently operate from New River, including the training unit (HMHT-302). At the time of our visit, HMH-366 was temporarily based at MCAS Cherry Point whilst its new hangers are being built, and HMH-461 'Ironhorse' was temporarily deployed to Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom.

The first Ospreys we see on the MV-22 ramps are those of VMX-22
This example clearly illustrates the rear loading ramp

A sight about to be diminished in Marine Corps ranks is the UH-1N Huey, now all but replaced by the UH-1Y version

These two withdrawn examples await their fate at New River

The Commander's aircraft from VMA-542 displays a colourful scheme designed around the squadron's Tiger emblem

Four Grumman EA-6B Prowler squadrons are in residence at Cherry Point
Three of VMAQ-2's aircraft bask in the North Carolina sun

A trainee Leatherneck from VMAT-203 awaits the all-clear to proceed to the Cherry Point runway for a mission

After the heavy-lift ramps, we move onto the Light Attack units at New River. Three squadrons are based with 2 MAW, operating the Bell-Textron AH-1W Super Cobra and the UH-1Y Venon. The AH-1W Super Cobra is a day/night attack helicopter that provides escort for the assault helicopters and their embarked forces. A tandem-seat, twin-engined helicopter capable of land or sea based operations, the AH-1W provides fire support to the amphibious landing force during assaults and subsequent operations ashore. The AH-1W is operated in eight composite HMLA squadrons within the Marines Corps. Outfitted with a Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) that provides laser range-finding/designating and camera capabilities, the AH-1W can carry both TOW, Hellfire and Maverick missiles.

This VMA-223 Harrier sports another special tail paint scheme which bears the title 'The Great American Bulldogs'

During air-to-air operations, the APG-65 radar incorporates look-down/shoot-down capabilities. For air-to-surface operations, the radar features a sea surface search mode with clutter suppression. The AV-8B Harrier is in use with four squadrons at Cherry Point and a further four on the west coast at MCAS Yuma. The Harrier will eventually be replaced in Corps service by the Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter/JSF).

The 2nd MAW is the Marine Corps' primary asset on the East Coast and provides the aviation element of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). The 2nd MAW also provides support to the forces of European, Central and Southern Commands, with its three Marine Corps Air Stations providing a range of aviation assets needed to support the land based Marines; these being MCAS Cherry Point, MCAS New River, both in North Carolina and MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. Four Marine Aircraft Groups (MAG-14, MAG-26, MAG-29, MAG-31) a Marine Wing Support Group (MWSG-27) and Marine Air Control Group (MACG-28) form the tenant command units under the control of the 2nd MAW. Each Marine Group is comprised of several flying squadrons, with over 400 aircraft available. We spent some time with the units at New River and Cherry Point to get an insight to what goes on at these busy Mrine Corps bases.

 Another 'Ace of Spades' jet next to the VMAQ-1 'Banshees' hangar

VMAT-203 is the only Marine Squadron to operate the TAV-8B Harrier twin-seat trainer
Previously an A-4 Skyhawk unit, VMAT-203 became the sole AV-8A/C Harrier training squadron, then subsequently the AV-8B

The first Bell-Textron UH-1Y Venom was delivered to HMLA-467 in late April 2013 to replace the aged UH-1Ns

MCAS Cherry Point construction began in November 1941, just 17 days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. On 20th May 1942, the facility was commissioned as Cunningham Field in honor of the Marine Corps' first aviator, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred A. Cunningham. The completed facility was later renamed Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, after a local post office situated among cherry trees. Cherry Point's primary World War II mission was to train units and Marines for service in the Pacific.

Cherry Point's contribution to the Korean War effort was to provide a steady stream of trained aviators and aircrew, as well as maintenance and support personnel as replacements to forward deployed aviation units. During the Vietnam War, Cherry Point deployed three Grumman A-6 Intruder squadrons to the Far East and again provided a constant source of replacements for aircrew and enlisted aviation personnel. In Operation Desert Storm, MCAS Cherry Point was a major contributor to the victory in Southwest Asia by supporting the deployment of three AV-8B Harrier squadrons, two A-6E Intruder squadrons, one KC-130 Hercules squadron, one EA-6B Prowler squadron, and headquarters detachments from Marine Aircraft Group 14, Marine Aircraft Group 32, and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. MCAS Cherry Point units also participated in strike missions and follow-on operations in Afghanistan and its surrounding region during Operation Enduring Freedom. Today, MCAS Cherry Point provides the strike, electronic warfare and transport/tanker aviation assets of 2nd MAW utilising the AV-8 Harrier, EA-6 Prowler, KC-130 Hercules and C-9 Skytrain aircraft.

VMMT-204's 'CAG' bird is seen here on 13th May 2013
VMMT-204 is not only responsible for training Marine Corps crews on the Osprey, but also future Air Force crews too

 The mighty Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion

Bell AH-1W Super Cobra #160744 on the HMLA-467 ramp at Cherry Point

The New River ramps are dominated by the Boeing-Vertol MV-22B Osprey 

CAG bird from VMM-162 'Golden Eagles'

Jetwash Aviation Photos

Military Aircraft Photography

At the opposite end of the Cherry Point ramps is the sole KC-130 Hercules unit, VMGR-252

This shot clearly illustrates the large 'bubble' canopy of the two-seat Harrier

A typical example of a Marine Corps Bell AH-1W Super Cobra

"The United States Marine Corps, with its fiercely proud tradition of excellence in combat, its hallowed rituals, and its unbending code of honor, is part of the fabric of American myth" (Thomas E. Ricks; Making the Corps, 1997)  

#163196 is a typical example of the TAV-8B Harrier II on the strength of VMAT-203

The mission of VMG-252, the oldest continually active squadron in the history of the Marine Corps, is to provide assault transport of personnel & equipment, and to provide aerial refuelling to both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. The Lockheed KC-130J is able to carry more than 12,000 gallons of fuel and simultaneously refuel two aircraft at 300 gallons a minute. In 2012 the first Harvest HAWK (Hercules Airborne Weapons Kit) armed version of the KC-130J was employed with VMGR-252. The Harvest Hawk kit incorporates a fire-control console in the aircraft's cargo compartment, as well as a Lockheed AN/AAQ-30 infrared and electro-optical camera equipped under-wing fuel tank. It can carry either normal air-to-air refuelling pod or four Lockheed AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and enables the Hercules to launch precision-guided munitions from the cargo ramp, including the Raytheon AGM-175 Griffin or MBDA GBU-44/B Viper Strike missiles.

The Super Cobra has a fire-and-forget capability when firing the Hellfire missile in co-operative mode with laser target illumination. The AH-1W can also fire unguided 70mm or 127mm Zuni rockets. The Super Cobra also has a three-barrel 20mm Gatling gun in the nose for close range engagement.

MCAS New River's Beech UC-12B is used for light transport and liaison flights

'Moondog 02' gets some line work completed on the Cherry Point ramps

MCAS Cherry Point is dominated by attack squadrons equipped with the McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B+ Harrier II

The CH-53E differs from the CH-53D Sea Stallion by adding a third twin-turbine engine to the original two, adding a seventh blade to the main rotor and canting the tail rotor by 20 degrees.The main rotor which also has an automatic blade-folding system to maximise space when onboard a ship. Changes on the CH-53E also include a stronger transmission and a fuselage stretch of 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m). The main rotor blades were changed to a titanium-fiberglass composite. The tail configuration was also changed. Also added was a new automatic flight control system. The digital flight control system prevented the pilot from overstressing the aircraft.

"Pardon Our Noise, It's The Sound Of Freedom" is the sign that greets you at the entrance to Marine Corps Air Station New River. Located four miles South of Jacksonville, North Carolina, it is also known as McCutcheon Field, after Brigadier General Keith B. McCutcheon, one of the fathers of Marine Corps helicopter aviation. MCAS New River was the first Marine Corps base to operate the Boeing-Vertol MV-22 Osprey in frontline service and the ramps are dominated by the squadrons operating this tilt-rotor aircraft.

Originally placed under the command of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, New River received its first squadron (VMSB-331) on 9th March 1943. On 26th April 1944, the area of land around New River and Peterfield Point was commissioned Marine Corps Auxiliary Airfield Camp Lejeune. This delineated the airfield from Camp Lejeune and marked its official birth as a Marine Corps installation. Over the next few years, paratrooper Marines, glider troops and air delivery personnel where trained here.

As World War II came to an end, MCAAF Camp Lejeune was closed and reverted back to caretaker status as an outlying airfield of MCAS Cherry Point. In 1951 the installation was reactivated and became Marine Corps Air Facility Peterfield Point. One year later the name was changed again, this time to Marine Corps Air Facility New River. July 1954 marked the arrival of the first operational Marine Aircraft Group, MAG-26, which was transferred from MCAS Cherry Point. The area faced another major name change in 1968, when it was recommissioned as Marine Corps Air Station (Helicopter) New River, marking its growth from a small training area to a major operational airfield. Today it houses light attack, medium, and heavy-lift support for 2 MAW with the AH/UH-1 and CH-53 helicopters, plus of course the MV-22 Osprey.

The largest unit at New River is VMMT-204, the Osprey training squadron
#166481 wears the typical 'ghost grey' camouflage applied to Marine Corps Ospreys

The first McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier IIs were delivered to VMAT-203 at MCAS Cherry Point in 1983, as a direct replacement for the earlier AV-8A/C Harrier. The first stop for all prospective Corps pilots destined for the Harrier is VMAT-203, the only unit to operate both the AV-8 and TAV-8 versions. All of the Corps' two-seaters being on the strength of VMAT-203.

 The Night Attack version of the Harrier II incorporates a GEC forward looking infrared (FLIR) in the nose, coupled with Night Vision Goggles (NVG). The AV-8B+(R) incorporates a Raytheon/Hughes AN/APG-65 radar in the nose. The AN/APG-65 Multi-Mode Radar is an all-weather sensor used for air-to-air and air-to-surface missions.

Another CAG bird, this time belonging to VMM-261 'Raging Bulls'
However the badges on the tail belong to the 1st Battalion/2nd MAW and the 24th Combat Logistics Battalion

The last Osprey unit we visited were our old friends at VMM-263 'Thunder Chickens'
We had flown with the unit back in January 2012 and were happy to reaquaint ourselves with some of the guys

In October 2010 Jetwash Aviation Photos spent some time with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) on the United States West Coast, reporting on the unit's aviation assets and their vital role in supporting the United States Marines Corps. Two and a half years on and we find ourselves invited to work with its East Coast sister unit, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. The headquarters and home to 2 MAW is at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina.

One of two ex-Presidential CH-53s on the strength of HMHT-302 is #165246,

seen above still wearing its HMX-1 gloss green colour scheme, albeit with HMHT-302's 'UT' tailcode

Front end of the UH-1Y clearly illustrates the FLIR ball under the nose section

Also temporarily based at Cherry Point is HMLA-467 with its UH-1 and AH-1 helicopters
As the last Corps unit to transition to the UH-1Y Venom, only a couple of the older UH-1Ns (above) are still on strength

One of HMLA-269's Bell UH-1Y Venoms at New River

VMGR-252's CAG bird sits alongside a couple of the squadrons other KC-130J Hercules

This photo shows the nose profile of the AV-8B+(R) version of the harrier and the distinctive radar nose cone

VMR-1 operates four Boeing-Vertol CH-46E Sea Knights in the Search & Rescue (SAR) role
All four are painted in this very smart red/grey colour scheme

#161534 of HMH-464 'Condors'

Illustrating how compact the MV-22 can be when onboard a ship, this aircraft is towed to the VMM-261's hanger

Most of VMM-263's aircraft have moved on and been replaced by new aircraft since our time with them in 2012
#168239 seen above is one of the latest Ospreys to roll off the production line in Amarillo, Texas

Not only is #158270 one of the last surviving UH-1Ns in service, she also sports this 'heritage' paint scheme
Painted whilst serving with HMLAT-303 at Camp Pendleton , she wears a Vietnam-era scheme with VMO-4 markings

This VMAQ-1 'Banshees' Prowler taxies out from its parking spot on the Cherry Point ramps for a morning mission

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

United States Marine Corps

 With VMA-542's hanger in the background, this VMA-223 Harrier awaits its crew

VMM-162's MV-22 Ospreys sit on the New River ramp on 13th May 2013

Marine Transport Squadron 1 (VMR-1) provides Search and Rescue support as well as short and medium range,

multi-purpose light transport of key personnel and critical logistics support to the Department of Defence (DOD)

They operate a fleet of CH-46E Sea Knights, Cessna UC-35D Citations and two McDonnell-Douglas C-9 Skytrains (above)

VMM-261 MV-22B Osprey sits on New River's ramp

The Marine Corps first experience with the Grumman EA-6 was with the EA-6A version of the Intruder, which included detachments aboard US Navy aircraft carriers. Following transition to the EA-6B, VMAQ-2 continued detachments to CVW-5 on board the aircraft carrier USS Midway. After completing its final assignment aboard the Midway in 1980, it began shore-based rotations with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Iwakuni, Japan. During Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, VMAQ-2 had one detachment deployed in Japan, with the remainder of the squadron deployed to the Persian Gulf. The Reserve squadron at that time (VMAQ-4), transitioned from the EA-6A to the EA-6B and subsequently relieved the detachment in Japan. Effective 1st October 1992, the Marine Prowler community reorganized its structure. The VMAQ squadrons are now structured into four active duty units (VMAQ-1, 2, 3, 4). This restructuring provides the flexibility necessary for continuing to support peacetime requirements, as well as the capacity to concurrently assign Marine EA-6B forces to commanders in different areas of operation. During our visit to Cherry Point, VMAQ-4 was on assignment to Iwakuni. The EA-6Bs are tasked with providing electronic attack, electronic counter-countermeasures (ECM), radar jamming and suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) using the AN/ALQ-99 jamming podand the AGM-88 HARM. Each of the four squadrons at Cherry Point oerate five aircraft and plans are for it to continue in Marine Corps service until 2019.

Units based at MCAS New River:
Bell AH-1W Super Cobra & Bell UH-1Y Venom (HMLA-167, HMLA-269)
Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion (HMH-461, HMH-464, HMHT-302)

Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey (VMM-162, VMM-261, VMM-263, VMM-264, VMM-266, VMM-365, VMMT-204)
Beech UC-12F Huron (Base transport flight)

As mentioned previously HMH-366 'Hammerheads' is temporarily based at Cherry Point whilst new hangers are built at New River
#165247 is a typical example of the units Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters

VMX-22 (Argonauts) stood up in August 2003 and reports to the Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force (COMOPTEVFOR), who in turn reports test data and results to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation. As a test and evaluation unit rather than a frontline operational unit (as per the other MV-22 squadrons at New River), VMX-22's role is to test and address any future requirements for the operational units, build an operational tactics guide, develop tactics, techniques, and procedures, sponsor tilt-rotor issues and concepts of employment, prepare the foundation for the training syllabus of the tilt-rotor Fleet Readiness Squadron and provide a solid framework for MV-22 operational testing.

US Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey

As we said earlier, the ramps at Cherry Point are dominated by the Marine Attack Squadrons operating the AV-8B Harrier
The Harrier above is noticeable by the lack of a radar dome in the nose, identifying it as a 'Night Attack' version

 VMA-231 'Ace of Spades' AV-8B+(R) catches some Carolina rays!

The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion is the Marine Corps' heavy-lift helicopter, with a primary mission to move cargo and equipment. It has a secondary role of transferring troops ashore during an amphibious assault. The CH-53E is an advanced version of the CH-53D Sea Stallion operated previously by the Marines, with improved engines and increased power. The CH-53E Super Stallion is also capable of an emergency water-landing and take-off.

The Super Stallion's cargo/troop compartment measures 30 feet long by 7 feet wide and 6  feet high, with a rear loading door/ramp. To facilitate cargo handling, a remotely controlled winch is located at the forward end of the cargo compartment. It is capable of carrying a jeep & trailer, a 105mm howitzer or a Hawk missile system. Alternatively, thirty-eight combat equipped troops or twenty-four litter patients can be carried. The Marine Corps had been planning to upgrade most of their CH-53Es to keep them in service, but the plan stalled. Sikorsky proposed a new version of the helicopter and the USMC signed a contract for 156 aircraft. In August 2007, the USMC increased its order of the new CH-53K to 227, with initial operating capability expected by 2015.

Head-on shot of a MV-22B Osprey on the New River ramp

We would like to thank the following for their assistance prior to and during our visits with the 2nd MAW:-
1st Lt. Alejandro Aguilera (MCAS Cherry Point)
SSgt. Roman Yurek (MCAS Cherry Point)
1st Lt. Roberto Martins (MCAS New River)
Lt. Courtney Hillson (CHINFO)

The CH-53 training squadron is also based at New River in the guise of HMHT-302 'Phoenix'

Rear ¾ view of a Marines Corps UH-1Y