The Marine Phantoms

submitted by LtCol Lynn “Kim” Kimball, USMC (Ret)

Generations of spectators have been enthralled and left spell-bound by the aerial, seemingly death-defying, aerobatics of the world’s premier fight demonstration teams, the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds. However, to the U.S. Marine Corps must go the honors, once again, of being the first: in this case creating the world’s first jet aerobatic flight demonstration team. [1] And, it should be noted, these were Carolina Marines.

The Marine Corps entered the jet age in November of 1947 with the acceptance of its first McDonnell FH-1 Phantoms by Fighter Squadron (VMF) 122, assigned to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point. Commanded by the Corps’ legendary aviator, then Lieutenant Coronel, Marion Carl, World War II ace and eventual recipient of four Distinguished Flying Crosses, VMF-122 was the Corps’ first squadron to employ jet aircraft.


These were difficult times for the Marine Corps, which was being assailed by a hostile Truman administration and Army Department that had every intention of reducing the Corps to a “position of studied military ineffectiveness” and threatened its very existence. [2] Marine aviation, in particular, was an immediate and favorite target, and Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson, an “insensitive political hack” according to historian Robert Heinl, would eventually formulate plans to transfer Corps aviation to the Air Force. [3]


Realizing the value of rallying public support and interest in the Marine Corps by demonstrating the Corps’ new jets, in order to help counter the administration’s schemes, LtCol Carl in 1948 created within VMF-122 an aerobatic flight demonstration team called the “Marine Phantoms” utilizing the newly acquired FH-1, the world’s first such team employing jet aircraft. (The Navy’s Blue Angels had formed two years earlier but were still flying the propeller-driven Grumman F8F. The Air Forces’ Thunderbirds weren’t stood up until 1953.) For two years the Phantoms awed crowds throughout the U.S. in more than 50 air shows. Their impact on the Corps’ public support wasn’t lost on Secretary Johnson, who in a move that could only be described as “mean spirited,” and aimed directly at the Marine Corps, prohibited future military participation in air shows. [4]


The Korean War put an end to the administration’s ill-timed and dysfunctional efforts to reduce and reorganize the country’s military. The Marine Phantoms, however, would not return after the war, accepting the Blue Angels as an appropriate representative for all naval aviation. The superb performance of the Marine Corps in the war reestablished the nation’s need for a general purpose, task-organized, amphibious force-in-readiness, and guaranteed the continued existence of the Marine Corps, and its aviation. The Corps, with the significant contribution of Carolina Marines, had in many respects saved Korea, and the Korean War had saved the Marine Corps.


VMF-122 lives on as Fighter-Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122, now equipped with the Lockheed-Martin F-35B Lightening II, and is stationed at MCAS Yuma.



  1. Mersky, p. 122.
  2. Soldiers of the Sea, pp. 516-517.
  3. Victory at High Tide, pp. 6-7.
  4. Adkins, p. 55.


LtCol Arthur A. Adkins, USMC, and C.W. Olsen, The History of Cherry Point. MCAS Cherry Point, 1999.

LCdr Thomas J. Cutler, USN (Ret). “Blue Angels-Keeping the Public Interested.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Jul16.

Col Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., USMC (Ret). Soldiers of the Sea. U.S. Naval Institute, 1962.

—– Victory at High Tide. U.S. Naval Institute, 1968.

Peter B. Mersky. U.S. Marine Corps Aviation, 1912 to the Present. Nautical and Aviation Publishing Co of America, 1983.

“Blue Angel History.” Https:// Acrobatic Display Teams website.

“History.” USAF Thunderbirds website. Retrieved 2019-12-11.

”Marine Phantoms.” Https:// Acrobatic Display Teams website. Retrieved 2019-13-11.

“Mc Donnell FH Phantom.’ Http:// Wikipedia. Retrieved 2019-12-12.

“VMFA-122.” Https:// Wikipedia. Retrieved 2019-12-13.

“VMFA-122 History.” Http://www.3rdMAW.Marines.Mil/Units/MAG-13/VMFA-122/. Retrieved 2019-12-11.

Posted on: December 17th, 2019
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