Home Americas USMC wraps up Harrier support with final airframe delivery

USMC wraps up Harrier support with final airframe delivery

Harrier support
Team members from Fleet Readiness Center East’s AV-8B production line stand in front of the last AV-8B Harrier to undergo Planned Maintenance Interval (PMI) inspection for Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 542 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. Photo: US Navy

The AV-8B Harrier program at Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE), North Carolina, delivered the final aircraft it will service for one of the Marine Corps’ last Harrier squadrons as the type readies for retirement.

In September, Marine Attack Squadron 542 (VMA-542) at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point took possession of the newly refurbished AV-8B Harrier, which had been undergoing overhaul work at FRCE since December 2020.

FRCE has performed 45 of these events for the squadron since the program’s inception in 2003; however, VMA-542 is slated to become Cherry Point’s first F-35 squadron and, as a result, has no more depot maintenance scheduled for its AV-8B Harriers.

Many of the production line’s maintainers have spent their careers associated with the AV-8B Harrier program at FRCE. They say it is bittersweet to watch as the aircraft is being replaced by the more advanced technology of the F-35.

“You’ve got a lot of blood, sweat and tears invested in the airplane, but you also understand that it’s time to move on,” said Ike Rettenmair, FRCE Fixed Wing Division director, whose Harrier experience dates back to his Marine Corps service. “There’s better technology out there with the F-35. It’s time, but it’s still kind of sad to see.”

Before the Planned Maintenance Interval (PMI) inspection, the squadron disassembles the aircraft and turns it over to FRCE. Aviation maintenance professionals inspect the aircraft and repair the discrepancies they find, which accounts for about 5,300 hours of work, according to Rettenmair. After the PMI-D phase is complete, the aircraft enters the IMP assembly phase, during which FRCE artisans reassemble the aircraft, ground check it, and release it to the squadron for the aircraft’s functional check flight. FRCE is scheduled to continue performing PMI-D inspections for the Marine Corps’ two remaining AV-8B squadrons through 2028.

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater US Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.