Viewport: Airborne Artillery
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, March 2012
"Viewport," by National Air and Space Museum director J.R. Dailey, opens each issue of Air & Space magazine. The column highlights the Museum's ongoing efforts to preserve the history of aviation and spaceflight. This article appeared in the Febuary/March 2012 issue of Air & Space.
To celebrate the centennial of Marine Corps aviation this year, the National Air and Space Museum, with the generous support of GE Aviation, is hosting a series of lectures by Marine aviators. We’ll start at the top on April 12, when General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps and the first aviator to hold that position, will speak about Marine aviation and his experiences as a Marine. On May 24, the annual Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Lecture, supported by Bombardier Aerospace, will be delivered by former astronaut and Senator John Glenn, who, as a Marine major in 1957, set a transcontinental speed record flying a Vought F8U Crusader. I’ll admit to a strong personal interest in this year-long celebration, having spent 36 years as a Marine Corps aviator.
For background on the history that our speakers will explore, read “100 Years of Marine Aviation” on page 28, a survey of 10 aircraft that have been important to the Marine Corps. You’ll see that for most of our history, Marines were able to fly ground attack missions only by transforming airplanes that had been designed as fighters. We put bombs on everything that flew. During World War II and Korea, we turned Corsairs into fighter-bombers, and by Vietnam, we were putting 2,000-pound bombs on F8U Crusaders. Finally, in 1983, we got the F/A-18, one of the first aircraft built from the keel up to be a fighter-attack airplane.
When we were procuring the F/A-18 for the Marine Corps, I used to say it was the best airplane in the world because it was a fighter-attack aircraft and could be sea-based or ground-based. The F-15E is a more capable airplane once the wheels are up, but it can’t land on a carrier. The basing flexibility, air-to-ground capability, maneuverability, and computer systems of the F/A-18 make it a great close-air-support airplane for the Marines. I agree with Major Byron Sullivan, who describes his experience in the F/A-18: You can do everything in it except land vertically. That’s why we need the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.
In a speech delivered a few years ago, General Charles C. Krulak, who at the time was the Marine Commandant, related an episode that helps explain why Marines have been so determined to have a dedicated tactical support airplane. It happened during the World War I battle for Belleau Wood. A Marine brigade, attempting to cross a field to destroy a German encampment in the wood, was hit by artillery fire, called in by a German soldier from an observation balloon near the field. The Marines sent out a call for an aircraft to attack the balloon, but the call went unanswered. Several who fought in that battle, which the Marines eventually won at great cost, went on to be leaders in the Marine Corps. They made sure that Marine infantrymen would always have Marine air support.
I hope you’ll join us at the Museum this year to learn more about what aviation has meant to the Marine Corps.
J.R. Dailey is the director of the national Air and Space Museum.