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What It Took To Be A Marine Aviator In The Mad Men Era

Wings of a Marine Traces the Path of a Future Skyhawk Pilot to the Fleet

Wings of a Marine was produced by the Navy Department in 1964. It tells the story of Second Lieutenant William T. Smith, a typical Marine aviator in those days, and his path after completion of his basic flight training at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola. This particular Marine aviator enters the A-4 pipeline and eventually flies A-4C Skyhawks with Marine Attack Squadron VMA-225 Vagabonds. The film was shot primarily at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point in North Carolina. Smith’s initial A-4C carrier qualifications (CarQual) were shot aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Lexington (at the time CVS-16, later CVT-16). The quality of both the visuals and the audio is quite good- better than most films transferred to video from this period.

The film is typical for its era in that it’s a little bit hokey, but that doesn’t take away from the excellent air-to-air photography or the time-capsule quality of the jets, the personnel, or their appearance. Naturally there are numerous shots of the Vagabonds flying their A-4Cs. Also making screen appearances are VMFA-115 Silver Eagles flying their McDonnell-Douglas F-4B Phantom IIs and VMA-332 Polka Dots / Moonlighters flying their A-4Cs. As Smith drives down the MCAS Cherry Point ramp he sees Lockheed KC-130 Hercules tankers of VMGR-252 Otis, and Vought RF-8 Crusaders and Douglas EF-10B Skyknights of VMCJ-2 Playboys.

Cover photo credit: AMC

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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