Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport – 11-29-2013
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
With the passing of Turkey Day, and, what is officially referred to as, a “holiday weekend” upon us, I figured the military action would be non-existent this weekend. When a friend contacted me to let me know that some East-Coast Harriers were in at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, I did not hesitate to grab my gear and head to the airport.
When I arrived, there were several Harriers there that were based out of MCAS Cherry Point in North Carolina. Several of the Harriers were from Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 (VMAT-203) “Hawks” and one was from Marine Attack Squadron 223 (VMA-223) “Bulldogs”. These aircraft are part of a detachment currently training out of NAF El Centro and MCAS Yuma. These East-Coast Harriers come out West a few times per year to get some training in. My guess is, and it’s only a guess, is that this group wanted to get some work in over the holiday and NAF El Centro and MCAS Yuma closed their bases for Thanksgiving.
The intriguing aspect of the VMAT-203 Harriers is that, being a training squadron, they fly the two-seated TAV-8B Harriers. While unique, the only word I can think of to describe the way these Harriers look is: “funky”. The TAV-8B Harrier is the two-seat training version of the AV-8B Harrier. The TAV-8B’s have the same cockpit and digital readout as a standard AV-8B, but they are not combat capable.
I stayed at the airport for a few hours to shoot these aircraft in decent light. I was very fortunate to catch them when I did because it appears they left Friday evening or early Saturday.