How the Marine Corps Went From VMF(AW) to VMFA

How did the Marine Corps progress from having squadrons titled Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron VMF(AW) to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA?  Major General Hal Vincent USMC Retired explained to me how the transition came about since he was a major player in the adoption of the Fighter Attack designation.  It would seem that a change was inevitable considering the advent of the F-4 Phantom with a two man crew into Marine Aviation.  But, without Hal Vincent, Marion Carl and other Marine Aviation leaders during a major and critical expansion period in Aviation History the change might never have taken place and the aircraft nomenclature probably would have evolved into something far different.


VMF(AW)-314 was in Marine Aircraft Group 15 at MCAS El Toro, California in 1961-62.  The pilots were flying the F4D Skyray.  The new aircraft pipeline had 314 scheduled to receive the Navy's latest fighter aircraft, the McDonnell Douglas F4B Phantom in 1962.  Colonel Mike Yunck was the MAG-15 Commander.  LtCol Bob Barber was the new squadron Commander of VMF(AW) 314 while Major Hal Vincent was the squadron Operations Officer.   The three officers agreed that diligent screening of qualified pilots was necessary to insure the best possible pilots were hand picked to successfully fly and maintain the latest most sophisticated aircraft coming into the Marine Corps inventory.  Colonel Yunck felt pilot assignments were the highest priority to insure the future success of the F4 Phantom in Marine Aviation.  Lt Col Barber wanted no majors senior to Major Vincent in the squadron during the transition period and chose to let Captain Walt Hutchins the Administrative Officer fill in on Executive Officer duties while Captain Bob Norton was assistant to Hal Vincent in Operations.

Each new pilot considered for assignment to 314 was screened, for flight experience, type aircraft, flight grades and each candidate flown in the back seat of the TV-2 by Major Hal Vincent to determine their proficiency in instrument flying.  The screening process brought the finest most qualified pilots into the squadron.  The Naval Flight Officers, (RIOs) were for the most part experienced F3D RIOs who contributed greatly to the smooth training and operation of the two man teams in the Phantoms.  VMF(AW) 314 flight crews quickly became very proficient in the Air To Air Fighter Syllabus.  The squadron went on several deployments.  314 went aboard West Coast carriers and qualified both day and night.  The squadron qualified in aerial refueling on long range flights.  Then, 314 deployed on an air to ground ordnance delivery training period of TAD.  The squadron expended ordnance on raked targets resulting in the crews becoming quite proficient in 10 degree and 30 degree bombing and rocketing.    By documenting each flight the results showed that after just ten (10) air to ground flights in the Phantom the circular error probable (CEPs) on 10 and 30 degree delivery for the crews were outstanding and comparable to experienced second tour pilots in attack squadrons.  The experienced RIOs contributed greatly to the superior bombing results.  Hal Vincent and Bob Norton documented and graphed the exceptional air to ground training results and showed the results to the Group CO, Colonel Yunck, and their CO, Lt Col Barber.  It was quietly decided that the superior records achieved should be brought to the attention of the Senior Aviation Representatives at Headquarters, Marine Corps.


Hal Vincent and Bob Norton flew to Andrews Air Force Base and called upon their old friend Colonel Marion Carl who was Assistant to Deputy Chief of Staff Aviation at Headquarters, Marine Corps.  Hal and Bob showed the figures and graphs to Marion Carl who was very impressed.  Marion took the package of training reports and briefed his boss, Major General Norm Anderson, DCS Air at HQMC.  The information clearly proved that the Phantom was an accurate air to ground platform and that the syllabus for the F4 should include nearly all the air to ground conventional ordnance delivery training requirements of operational attack squadrons.

Hal Vincent and Bob Norton returned to 314 at MCAS El Toro with deep satisfaction on the success of their briefing at HQMC.  But even they were surprised when in less than two weeks following their trip to Washington, DC, all Marine units received the CMC ALMAR message directing that henceforth all F4 Phantom squadrons would be VMFA vice VMF(AW).

Now you know the real story behind the VMFA vs VMF(AW).


Semper Fi

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