Historic Marine Corps aircraft on display at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

Jets, helicopters and more await you at this fascinating museum just north of San Diego.

Geoffrey Morrison
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Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

Just outside of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego is the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum. It features planes and helicopters used by the US Marine Corps throughout its history. 

For the full story behind this tour and the museum, check out the article Marine Corps' aviation history takes flight at Flying Leatherneck museum.

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A beautifully restored TBM Avenger torpedo bomber is one of the stars of the museum. Built by General Motors in 1945, this specific aircraft served as a trainer, a civilian aerial sprayer and a water bomber.

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Crew with a view

The Avenger had a crew of three: A pilot, rear gunner and a bombardier, who also operated the radio and had rear-facing guns of his own. Former President George H. Bush flew an Avenger during World War II.

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The F-5 was largely a training aircraft, but this example was used as a stand-in for MiGs at the Navy's Top Gun school.

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F/A-18 Hornet

The F/A-18 Hornet fills a variety of roles for the Navy and Marines, like ground attack, air support, fleet defense and more. One of the two Hornets at the museum, this aircraft has the markings of VMFAT-101, aka the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron. VMFAT is stationed at the adjacent Miramar airbase.

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F/A-18 Hornet

The F/A-18 entered service in 1984. The Marines are replacing them with F-35 Lightning IIs.

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Hawker Siddeley Harrier

The Hawker Siddeley Harrier is capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, or VTOL. The Marine Corps currently flies the upgraded version and plans to replace it with the F-35B.

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OV-10 Bronco

The OV-10 Bronco was a rugged and exceptionally versatile aircraft, filling a variety of roles for every branch of the US military, and the militaries of several other countries. 

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F4D Skyray

The F4D Skyray, later redesignated F-6, was a fast early Cold War fighter and interceptor. It never saw combat.

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A delta wing

The F4/F-6 has a delta wing, meaning the ailerons and elevators are combined into elevons. You can see one pitched up on the right wing here.

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F-8 Crusader

The F-8 Crusader was one of the primary fighter aircraft of the Vietnam War.

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F2H Banshee

Another rare early Cold War-era Navy jet is the F2H Banshee. It was relatively short lived, entering service in 1948 and getting removed from active service in 1961. This example was also stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Midway, which is now a museum ship in San Diego.

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F9F Panther

The majority of carrier-based aircraft, like the F9F Panther, have some sort of folding-wing design to save space when they're parked below deck. This aircraft was in service for only 6 years, getting replaced by the F-9 Cougar, which had a more powerful engine and swept-back wings.

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F3D Skyknight

This absolute unit is the F3D Skyknight, which was designed by the same man who designed the Skyray and the WWII-era SBD Dauntless. Not much to look at, they were in service for nearly 20 years. This example was used in the development of one of the A-6E electronic warfare systems, as well as the Patriot missile system.

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Drone launcher

This fairly standard-looking M927 truck was the mobile launching platform for the AAI RQ-2 Pioneer drone/UAV.

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From Russia, via China

One of the few foreign aircraft at the museum is this Soviet-built MiG-15, which was damaged in North Korea and repaired in China. It was acquired from a museum there in the late '80s.

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WWII trainer

The T-6 Texan trained several generations of pilots in countries all around the world. Over 15,000 were built.

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Cheaper trainer

Developed as a cheaper alternative to the Texan, the T-34 is based on the popular civilian Beechcraft Bonanza. Many T-34s are still in service, and the Bonanza is still being produced, a testament to its design.

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Hi viz rescue and fire

Photos don't do the paint on this Oshkosh P-19A justice. The P-19A is being replaced by the P-19R.

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More than 16,000 Bell UH-1s, aka Hueys, have been built since 1956. This example first flew in 1974 and was in service until 2010.

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The AH-1 attack helicopter is largely based on the Huey and performs a variety of missions, including escorting more lightly armed transport helicopters.

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The gunner sits in the front seat, with the pilot sitting behind.

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Both helicopters were used to train pilots and crew at nearby Camp Pendleton.

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Quite a stallion

This CH-53 Sea Stallion is easily the biggest helicopter at the museum.

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Power lifter

The heavy lifting CH-53 has a six-bladed rotor, powered by two turboshaft engines. Newer versions have three engines and a seven-bladed rotor for even greater lifting capabilities.

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Heart of legends

The Sikorsky H-34 was powered by the same front-mounted, air-cooled radial engine that powered the B-17, SBD Dauntless and others. This example was stationed in Japan and on various carriers in the Pacific during the Vietnam War.

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Before the H-34, there was the H-19, sporting a similar overall design. This example was in service for 13 years. One of its many interesting missions was a support on the USS Boxer for Operation Hardtack.

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The CH-46 Sea Knight was in service with the Marine Corps from 1964 to 2015. It was one of the fastest helicopters of its day. 

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This specific Sea Knight is called Lady Ace 09. It's the actual helicopter used in Operation Frequent Wind to evacuate Ambassador Graham Martin during the Fall of Saigon in 1975.

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Long Knights

The Sea Knight has been replaced by the tilt-rotor V-22, one of the many aircraft I got to explore at the Royal Air Tattoo air show.  

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US Marines captured this Iraqi Bell 214ST in Kuwait in 1991.

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You can walk a line of Douglas A4 Skyhawks.

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Last is first

This is the last Skyhawk built, an A-4M Skyhawk II designed and built specifically for the Marines. 

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Navy F

This F variant flew with the Navy and saw combat in Vietnam.

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Early C

This C variant entered service in 1961 and was stationed on several aircraft carriers in the South China Sea throughout the '60s. It was later a training aircraft in Florida and finally at nearby Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

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Night fighter

The F4U Corsair was one of the few WWII fighter aircraft used in combat well into the 1950s. This is the -5 variant, which among other improvements, had a more powerful engine that enabled a top speed of 470 mph (756 km/h). This example was converted for night operations, hence the pod on the right wing, and filled that role in the Korean War.

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Eyes in the sky

The F-4 Phantom II was an extremely successful aircraft with the Navy, Marines and Air Force. The small windows in the nose give away that this is the RF-4B reconnaissance variant. 

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F-9 Cougar

Before the RF-4, the reconnaissance role was filled by a highly modified F-9 Cougar, called the F9F-8P.

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The Prowler, left, is a more advanced version of the electronic warfare variant of the Intruder (right), though both are based on the A-6 Intruder airframe.

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A long service

The EA-6B was in service with the Marines from 1971 to 2019. The crew of four included a single pilot and three electronic countermeasures officers. It was replaced by the EA-18G Growler

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Flight of the...

This specific A-6 first flew in 1968 as an "A" variant. For a short time it was stationed on the Midway. Later it was one of 11 aircraft converted to the "E" electronic warfare variant.

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Tank salute

We end our tour with an M60 Patton tank, used by the Marines from the early '60s to the early '90s.

For more about this museum and the amazing machines within, check out the article Marine Corps' aviation history takes flight at Flying Leatherneck museum.

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