End Of An Era: MCAS Cherry Point Hosts Final USMC AV-8B Harrier II Demo

Final Harrier Demo
Photo Pass of Harrier flown on Sunday show day by Lt. Col. Paul Truog, Commanding Officer of VMA-231. (All photos, credit: Author)

“It’s bittersweet, all the good things have to come to an end; it’s our turn soon, but not yet” a Jump Jet pilot told us at MCAS Cherry Point Airshow.

Over the weekend of May 11 and 12, at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, a huge number of airshow enthusiasts gathered to watch a truly spectacular airshow and to view, for the final time, the Marine AV-8B Harrier II airpower demonstration.

The US Marine Corps are currently undergoing a major transformation from the legacy AV-8B Harrier II “Jump Jet” tactical aircraft to the F-35B Lightning II. During the past few years the Marine Corps have been activating F-35B squadrons and deactivating Harrier squadrons and, at the moment, the Marines are down to two remaining Harrier squadrons: Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 223, “The Bulldogs” and Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 231, “The Ace of Spades”.

A late evening off-base photo of VMA-223 AV-8B CAG jet on approach to MCAS Cherry Point, two days prior to airshow.

The Aviationist.com was fortunate to be able to speak with Captain Alfonso Fucci, Harrier pilot and Director of Safety and Standardization with VMA-231. We asked Capt. Fucci what the current plan of retirement is for his squadron and also for VMA-223. Capt. Fucci said that existing workplans have VMA-231 transitioning to the F-35B in the Summer of 2025, and approximately September 2026 for VMA-231’s transition to the F-35B.

AV-8B CAG jet from VMA-231 “Ace of Spades” on static display at airshow.

The dates outlined by Capt. Fucci align with the final Marine Harrier pilot training which just graduated their last two student pilots in late March 2024. In an interview directed by the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, of which VMA-231 and VMA-223 report into, Capt. Joshua Corbett, one of the two final Marines to graduate from Harrier Pilot training said the following, “It’s bittersweet, all the good things have to come to an end; it’s our turn soon, but not yet”. Capt. Corbett and his classmate will be reporting into Harrier squadron, VMA-223, “The Bulldogs”.

A late evening off-base photo of a Harrier Trainer TAV-8B from VMA-223, on approach to MCAS Cherry Point, two days prior to airshow.

In the more than forty year history, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Harriers have supported a lengthy list of operations around the globe, including, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Allied Force in the former Yugoslavia, tighting the Global War on Terrorism in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and in present times with Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea.

The last airshow at MCAS Cherry Point was in 2021, thus there was a high degree of anticipation and excitement regarding the show returning in 2024.

In 2021 MCAS Cherry Point received three awards from the International Council of Air Shows; amongst them was the Blue Angels Military Air Show of the Year, as well as the Pinnacle Platinum Award. The awards bestowed on MCAS Cherry Point highlight excellence in the air show industry with the Pinnacle Platinum Award being the highest honor.

Major Scheibe bringing the Harrier into a hover in front of the airshow crowd.

This years show had a record-breaking opening day with approximately 80,000 attendees and a total of 120,000 for the two day event. Because of the long and successful service record of the AV-8B Harrier II in Havelock, North Carolina, the home of MCAS Cherry Point, there was a genuine sense of loss in the crowd, that this fan favorite was ending its flying demonstration career.

Thankfully airshow planners not only included the Harrier in a solo performance each day but also incorporated the Harrier into the extremely popular MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) demonstration, with Sunday’s demonstration starring two Harriers from the “Ace of Spades”.

MAGTF Refueling demo with KC-130J of VMGR-252, F/A-18C from deactivated squadron VMFA-115, AV-8B from VMA-231.

The MAGTF demonstration, showcasing the coordinated use of close air support and infantry forces, is composed of four elements; (1) Command (Control & Coordination), (2) Ground Combat (Land Based Operations), (3) Aviation Combat (Air Operations) and (4) Combat Service Support (Support to the Force).

The Harrier solo demonstrations were flown by two highly experienced pilots from VMA-231.  Saturday’s performance had Major Eric Scheibe at the controls a pilot with over 1,800 hours in the Harrier.

Photo Pass of Harrier flown on Saturday show day by Major Eric Scheibe of VMA-231.
Major Scheibe taxiing out prior to Saturday’s Harrier demonstration.

Sunday, the final public Harrier demonstration, featured the Commanding Officer of VMA-231, Lt. Colonel Paul Truog with over 2,000 hours flying the Harrier. On both days, air show attendees were able to witness the Harriers strengths including Vertical or Short-Take Off and Landing (V/STOL) operations, as well as simulated attack profiles, and finally a maneuver that all photographers covet, a banked photo-pass in front of the crowd show line displaying the top side of the jet.

Lt. Col. Truog taxiing out prior to Sunday’s final Harrier demonstration

In closing, Capt. Fucci’s thoughts about this airshow displaying the last Harrier demonstration are entirely reasonable.

He told The Aviationist that it is emotional, he wishes we could do more shows to display the jet, such as Oshkosh in the summer, but Cherry Point is where the Harrier began so it is only fitting that this is the place where it is going to end.

 The Aviationist would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance with numerous media requests.  Capt. Alessandro Rossi, Deputy Director, Communication Strategy & Operations, MCAS Cherry Point.  Samantha Kupiainen, Public Affairs Specialist, MCAS Cherry Point.  2nd Lt. John Graham, Media Operations Officer, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS Cherry Point. Lastly, a special thanks to Capt. Alfonso Fucci, Harrier Pilot, VMA-231, MCAS Cherry Point. 

About Howard German
Howard German is a freelance aviation researcher and photographer based in the United States. His main areas of specialty are defense, intelligence, weapons systems and surveillance. He has been writing, archiving and photographing the history and operations of aerospace for over thirty-five years.