Harrier jets visit North Idaho

Marine Corps aircraft mark 100 years of naval aviation

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Maj. Toby Moore, of the United State Marine Corps, prepares to exit the cockpit of one of two AV-8B Harrier jets that landed Friday at Pappy Boyington Field at the Coeur d'Alene Airport.

The two Harriers streaked overhead, engines screaming as they soared side-by-side over Coeur d'Alene Airport-Pappy Boyington Field.

Far below, gathered outside the Northern Sky Air Center Hangar, about 100 spectators watched the Marine Corps jets sail through the sky. The sleek warplanes circled the field, slowed to a near-standstill, dropped toward the ground and settled, gently, onto the asphalt runway.

"They are the best of the best," said Nick Matye of Post Falls, a Marine Corps League member who knows something of aircraft and airmen. "They are the best pilots in the Marine Corps that fly these (planes). It takes a long time to train these guys. You can bet these guys have all had a heck of a lot of combat experience, too."

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of naval aviation, the twin AV-8B Harriers took off from Yuma, Ariz., and flew to North Idaho on Friday, stopping only once to refuel. The aircraft and pilots - Maj. Toby Moore and Capt. Dave Caribaldi - are members of VMA-214, a storied squadron better known as the Black Sheep.

The airmen parked their birds on a nearby tarmac and chatted with veterans from the Marine Corps League Pappy Boyington Detachment 966 - an outfit that played a major role in renaming the Coeur d'Alene airfield in 2007.

"It's fantastic," said detachment commandant George Minas, of Hayden. "This is a real treat for us to have our namesake squadron visit Coeur d'Alene."

Col. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, the brash World War II ace and Medal of Honor recipient, was the original leader of the Black Sheep Squadron, known then as VMF-214. Based in the Pacific Theater, the Black Sheep flew the F4U Corsair - a legendary Marine Corps fighter aircraft - against the Japanese.

Charismatic and roguish, one of the finest aviators in American military history, Pappy Boyington was born in Coeur d'Alene.

Sgt. Major Lenny Maldonado, one of four ground crewmen who joined the Harrier pilots in North Idaho, said it is a "tremendous honor" to be a member of the Black Sheep.

"Very rarely do you have an opportunity to be part of a squadron with that (kind of) reputation and legacy," Maldonado said.

The nickname has remained constant, but technology has come a long way since Pappy Boyington was flying missions. With a top speed just shy of Mach 1, the Harrier can bring missiles, rockets, bombs and a Gatling gun to the battlefield. It is most commonly used for ground support, the crewmen explained.

Staff Sgt. Robert Kirtley said the Harrier is an amazing aircraft, "especially when you're on a ship, and you watch one land 15 feet from where you're standing."

Equipped with rotating engine nozzles, the Harrier's vertical takeoff and landing ability is unique among warplanes, the Marines said. Like a jet-powered helicopter, the Harrier is capable of hovering in mid-flight, and needs very little room to operate.

"We could take off from this spot right here," said Caribardi, motioning toward his aircraft parked a few feet away.

Before Friday afternoon, the 28-year-old had never visited Idaho. Flying over the mountainous countryside was gorgeous, he said.

VMA-214 will be deploying soon, the Marines said. Half the unit is bound for Okinawa, Japan, where the Black Sheep will once again patrol the Pacific Theater. The other half will join a Marine Expeditionary Unit shipping out from California.

Welcoming the squadron pilots to Coeur d'Alene was "the best thing that we could do," Matye said. "I just wish more people could see it."

Brad and Mary Corkill of Rose Lake joined the veterans and watched the Harriers swoop in.

Their son, Capt. Nathan Corkill, is a Marine pilot based in Miramar, Calif. Strapped into the cockpit of his FA-18 Hornet, the 31-year-old was cruising near Los Angeles on Friday morning. He encountered a pair of Harriers in his airspace - the same two Harriers that would land in Coeur d'Alene a few hours later.

"We wouldn't miss this for anything," Brad said. "Watching a fighter jet land and take off... it's a pretty incredible experience."

Two-year-old Dawson Cushman surveys the air field after watching two Marine Harrier jets land in Coeur d'Alene.


Two Marine AV-8B Harrier jets fly in formation over the Coeur d'Alene airport before landing. The aircraft made the stop in Coeur d'Alene as part of a local recognition of the 100th anniversary of Naval aviation.

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