Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport 11-29-2013
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
If I were a betting man, I would have bet, that, because of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, there would not be any military aviation activity at “Willie” this weekend. If I were a betting man…I would have lost the bet.
When a friend contacted me on Friday to let me know that some Harriers from the East Coast were in at Willie, I collected my gear and headed to the airport.
When I arrived, there were several Harriers there from 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”. 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 respective 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 Harriers are the two-seat training version of the Harrier. The TAV-8B’s have the same cockpit and digital instruments 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. In addition, these Harriers appeared to be the only military aviation activity at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport this weekend.
I am glad I am not a betting man.