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History of Marine Corps Aviation

Introduction and Contents

History of Marine
Corps Aviation

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WW2 Marine Aces

In Association with

U.S. Marine Corps
While Pappy Boyington and his Black Sheep Squadron of World War Two are the most famous Marine Corps aviators, "Leatherneck" fliers have contributed to the operations of the Corps, from WWI to the present.

The first USMC pilots, Alfred Cunningham and Roy Gieger, began in 1912. In the First World War, the Marine fliers demonstrated their versatility: flying anti-submarine patrols as well as front-line bombing missions. Between the wars, it was a struggle for survival, as tight budgets and isolationism limited funding.

But during World War 2, Marine aviation grew exponentially, from 145 pilots in 1936 to over 10,000 by V-J Day. Aces like Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and Joe Foss won the headlines and medals, and deserve their prominence. But the dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and pilots flying ground attack displayed the same valor. In Korea and Vietnam, it was more of the same - close support for the grunts on the ground, whether in Panther jets, Douglas Skyraiders, or helicopters.

The Corps' air mission continues today.  Semper Fi.


Early Years: 1912 - 1941

World War One

Between the Wars

Expansion and Training

World War Two

Wake Island

Battle of Midway

The Road Back - Guadalcanal

The Solomons Campaign

Central Pacific Operations

The Philippines


Occupation & Post WWII Ops.


Chosin Reservoir

Technological Development


The Helicopter War

1968 - 1975

Recent History

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Some of the planes associated with Marine Aviation:

Curtiss N-9 - early seaplane

DeHavilland DH-4 - biplane bomber of WWI and the early Twenties

O2U Corsair - biplane fighter of the Twenties, used by Marines in Nicaragua

Boeing F4B - biplane fighter of the Thirties

Grumman F4F Wildcat - tough fighter flown at Guadalcanal

Vought F4U Corsair - "Bent-Wing" Bird, used from the Solomons in WW2 to Korea

Grumman F9F Panther - early jet used for ground attack in Korea

F4 Phantom II - multi-purpose jet of the 1960's

Bell UH-1E - the famous "Huey" used in Vietnam

Grumman A-6 Intruder - attack aircraft of the 70s and 80s

MV-22A Osprey - controversial tilt-rotor aircraft


Marine Aviation started on May 22, 1912, when First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham, USMC, reported to the Naval Aviation Camp at Annapolis. The Navy's first three aviators, Lieutenants T. G. Ellyson, John Rodgers, and J. H. Towers oversaw the camp's three aircraft. Two more Marines were soon assigned to the school: First Lieutenant Bernard L. Smith and Second Lieutenant William M. McIlvain that year. First Lieutenant Francis T. Evans joined them in June 1915. Along with Roy Geiger, who started flying at Pensacola in 1916, these four were the early nucleus of Marine Aviation.
Early Marine Aviators                  Marine Aviator    Naval Aviator
First Lieutenant Alfred A. Cunningham          #1               #5
First Lieutenant B. L. Smith                   #2               #6
Second Lieutenant William M. McIlvain          #3              #12
First Lieutenant Francis T. Evans              #4              #26
First Lieutenant Roy S. Geiger                 #5              #49
David L. S. Brewster                           #6              #55
Edmund G. Chamberlain                          #7              #96 1/2
Russell A. Presley                             #8             #100 3/4

Read more about Early Marine Aviation

DIRECTORS OF MARINE CORPS AVIATION 1 1919 - 1962 Maj Alfred A. Cunningham 17 Nov 1919 - 12 Dec 1920 LtCol Thomas C. Turner 13 Dec 1920 - 2 Mar 1925 Maj Edward H. Brainard 3 Mar 1925 - 9 May 1929 Col Thomas C. Turner 10 Nay 1929 - 28 Oct 1931 2 Maj Roy S. Geiger 6 Nov 1931 - 29 May 1935 Col Ross E. Rowell 30 May 1935 - 10 Mar 1939 BriGen Ralph J. Mitchell 11 Mar 1939 - 29 Mar 1943 3 MajGen Roy S. Geiger 13 May 1943 - 15 Oct 1943 BriGen Louis E. Woods 15 Oct 1943 - 17 Jul 1944 MajGen Field Harris 18 Jul 1944 - 24 Feb 1948 MajGen William J. Wallace 24 Feb 1948 - 1 Sep 1950 BriGen Clayton C. Jerome 1 Sep 1950 - 1 Apr 1952 LtGen William O. Brice 1 Apr 1952 - 31 Jul 1955 LtGen Christian F. Schilt 1 Aug 1955 - 31 Mar 1957 LtGen Verne J. McCaul l Apr 1957 - 2 Dec 1957 4 MajGen Samuel S. Jack 14 Jan 1958 - 20 Feb 1958 MajGen John C. Munn 21 Feb 1958 - 14 Dec 1959 MajGen Arthur F. Binney 15 Dec 1959 - 10 Sep 1961 Col Keith B. McCutcheon 11 Sep 1961 - 17 Feb 1962 Col Marion E. Carl 18 Feb 1962 - 4 Jul 1962 1 On 1 Apr 1936, the title of the senior aviator attached to Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, was changed from Officer in Charge, Aviation, to Director of Aviation. 2 Hiatus due to accidental death of Col Turner in Haiti on 28 Oct 1931. 3 Col Clayton C. Jerome was Acting Director, 30 Mar - 12 May 1943. 4 Col John L. Smith was Acting Director, 3 Dec 1957 - 13 Jan 1958. Appendix 2 AIRCRAFT LETTER AND NUMBER SYSTEM OF IDENTIFICATION Marine aircraft can be identified by the following letter-number system introduced in 1923: The first letter indicates the type of plane, the second the manufacturer with a number appended standing for the modification of the aircraft, e.g., an FF-2 is identified as a fighter, by (F) Grumman, (2) second modification. A number inserted between type and manufacturer's letters indicates the model number of the designer's aircraft in the same class (the first model or design number "1" always omitted), e.g., an F4U-1 is identified as a (F) fighter, (6) fourth model, by (U) Chance Vought, (1) first modification. Suffixes have had to be added when aircraft have been equipped for special missions or have certain modifications, e.g., an SBD-4P is defined as a (SB) scout-bomber by (D) Douglas, (4) fourth modification, equipped for (P) photography. TYPE LETTERS A - Attack; ambulance P - Patrol B - Bomber PB - Patrol-bomber F - Fighter R - Transport (Multiengine) G - Transport (single engine) S - Scout H - Helicopter; hospital SB - Scout-bomber J - Transport and general SN - Scout-trainer utility SO - Scout-observation JR - Utility-transport T - Torpedo and bombing; trainer N - Trainer TB - Torpedo-bomber O - Observation U - Utility OS - Observation-scout X - Experimental MANUFACTURERS' SYMBOLS The year shown opposite the manufacturer indicated the first time that particular manufacturer's symbol appeared in the designation of aircraft assigned to the Marines. A - Atlantic (1927) E - Bellanca (1923) A - Brewster (1936) E - Cessna (1951) B - Beech (1941) E - Piper (1942) B - Boeing (1925) F - Columbia (1944) C - Cessna (1943) F - Fairchild (Canada) (1944) C - Curtiss (1926) F - Grumman (1934) (Curtiss Wright) G - Great Lakes (1935) D - Douglas (1923) ---------------------------------------------------------------------- H - Howard (1942) R - Ford (1929) H - McDonnell (1947 S - Sikorsky (1931 J - North American S - Stearman (1944 K - Fairchild (U. S.) T - New Standard (1931) (1943) T - Northrop (1946) K - Kaman (1952) T - Timm (1942) L - Bell (1951) U - Chance Vought (1927) L - Loening (1926) (Vought-Sikorsky) M - General Motors (1943) V - Lockheed (1950) M - Glenn L. Martin (1922) V - Vega (1943) N - Naval Aircraft Factory V - Vultee (1943) (1942) W - Canadian Cart Foundry (1944) O - Lockheed 1939 W - Dayton-Wright (1925) P - Piasecki 1952 X - Cox-Klemin (1926) P - Pitcairn 1931 W - Dayton-Wright (1925) P - Spartan 1937 Y - Consolidated (1926) Q - Fairchild (1950) Y - Consolidated-Vultee (1942) SUFFIX LETTERS A - Amphibious N(A) - All-weather stripped B - Special Armament for day operations C - Carrier operation of NL - All-weather and winterized noncarrier aircraft P - Photographic D - Drone control Q - Countermeasures E - Special radar; special R - Transport-personnel/support electronics T - Training F - Flagship W - Special search; air warning; H - Hospital airborne early warning L - Winterized Z - Administrative M - Missile carrier N - Night; all-weather
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U.S. Marine Corps Aviation, by Maj. Gen. John P. Condon, at the excellent U.S. Navy Historical Center's public domain web site

History of Marine Corps Aviation in WWII, by Robert Sherrod - the authoritative reference work on this topic

In Association with     Wildcat Aces of World War 2, by Barrett Tillman

(Osprey Aircraft of the Aces, No 3) Covers both Marine Corps and Navy aces that flew the Wildcat, in the early phases of the war, at Guadalcanal, in the continuing Solomons campaign, and also the pilots flying the FM-2, a later version of the Wildcat flown from escort carriers. Also a section on the British Fleet Air Arm's use of the Wildcat ('Martlet' to them).

Highlights of the book include sections on Midway, Guadalcanal, a lengthy profile of Joe Foss, and a wartime history of VMF-121. There are tables of Wildcat aces for: the year 1942, the squadron VMF-121, the year 1943, and the FM-2 pilots. I'm a sucker for group photos, and the picture of VF-10, 'The Grim Reapers' standing in front of their winged skeleton scorboard is priceless.

Buy ''Wildcat Aces of World War 2'' at

Click here to buy 'Wildcat Aces of World War 2'

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