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“The Golden Challenge” Follows a Marine Corps Aviator Through The Jet Training Pipeline

Official US Marine Corps Photograph

When the US Naval Photographic Center and the United States Marine Corps (USMC) produced the training film “The Golden Challenge” in 1966, Marine Air was already heavily involved in the war in Vietnam. Aviators exiting the training pipelines could expect to deploy to Southeast Asia sometime during their first few years in most operational Marine Corps fighter or attack squadrons. This film, uploaded to YouTube by PeriscopeFilm, follows Second Lieutenant Larry Thornton through the process of becoming a Marine Aviator.

Official US Navy photograph

Larry begins his aviation training flying VT-1 Eagles Beechcraft T-34 primary trainers  and VT-4 Warbucks Rockwell T-2A Buckeye jets. Thronton then progresses through his training to carrier qualification performed on the carrier USS Lexington (CVS-16). Also seen in the film are Bell HTL and Sikorsky SH-34 Seabat helicopters from HT-8 Eightballers. Grumman F9F-8 Cougar and F11F Tiger jets from Naval Air Station (NAS) Beeville-based VT-25 Cougars represent the next stops in Thornton’s training pipeline.

Official US Marine Corp photograph

After Thornton earns his coveted Wings of Gold he is assigned to VMF(AW)-513 Nightmares flying simulated close air support (CAS) missions from the deck of the carrier USS Franklin D Roosevelt (CVA-42) during one of the many full-scale amphibious assault training exercises that took place back then. Lots of things going boom and Marines running on smoky beaches realistically convey the organized chaos of an amphibious assault.

Official US Navy photograph

VMFA-115 Able Eagles make appearances flying their McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom IIs as do some Marine Corps VMF-232 Red Devils Vought F-8 Crusader jet fighters, Lockheed KC-130 Hercules tankers, and Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw assault helicopters. A little bit of North American F-100 Super Sabre footage sneaks its way in as well. Some Marine Air Douglas A-4 Skyhawks appear toward the conclusion of the film.

Official US Navy photograph

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Bill Walton

Written by 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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