Pedro retirement marks 2015 on base

Cherry Point – and indeed the entire region – said goodbye to a friend in 2015.

Sept. 25 marked the final flight for Pedro, the HH-46E search and rescue helicopters flown by Marine Transport Squadron 1.

Yet, 2015 wasn’t an entire year of farewells, as Cherry Point also welcomed a new commanding general.

Here are some of the military highlights of 2015.

F-35B simulator

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and U.S. Marines at Cherry Point got to try out the F-35B flight simulator from Lockheed Martin over two days on April 2 and 3. The simulator offered just a hint of what is to come in Cherry Point’s future, with the first squadrons of the latest Marine Corps aircraft scheduled to arrive in 2022.

Blue Angels pilot

Capt. Katie Higgins, a former pilot for Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 at Cherry Point, became the first woman to fly for the Blue Angels, piloting Fat Albert, the jet demonstration team’s accompanying C-130.

Navy secretary visits

Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, visited Cherry Point on May 6. Mabus talked with Marines and sailors aboard the base and spent time informing members of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing about developments in Washington.

Pedro retired

The fleet of HH-46E Pedro helicopters from Marine Transport Squadron 1 at Cherry Point was retired with the last flights taking place Sept. 25. Pedro had been a familiar sight in the skies around the base since 1957 with H-2 Sea Sprites. The squadron transitioned to HH-46s in 1964. The flight of three Pedro helicopters over the Neuse River in front of Miller’s Landing marked an end to the search and rescue mission of the Marine Corps, which cited the high cost of operating the old aircraft and budget cuts as primary reason for the retirement.

F-35B work secured

The F-35 Joint Program Office announced Nov. 5 that it would not revisit an early decision to locate an F-35B lift fan repair facility at Cherry Point. Officials at Fleet Readiness Center said that part of the facility would be built, with other work areas consisting of existing buildings at the aircraft overhaul and repair facility. One FRC East manager said the decision ensured work for the facility for 50 years.

Thomas takes over

Maj. Gen. Gary L. Thomas assumed command of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing on Aug. 2 from Brig. Gen Paul J. Rock Jr., who had been an interim commander after the departure of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hedelund to command United States Marine Forces Korea. Thomas commands 16,500 Marines and sailors in 51 units. Thomas had been deputy director for Force Management, Application and Support on the Joint Staff.

Blue Angels coming

Officials at Cherry Point announced in August that the Blue Angels Navy Jet Demonstration Team would be returning to perform at the Cherry Point Air Show on April 29, 30 and May 1, marking the team’s first appearance at Cherry Point since 2012. Two pilots in Blue Angel No. 7 flew in Dec. 3 and 4 to start preparations for the team’s spring arrival.

Drones go down

Cherry Point-based drones ditched in area waters twice during the year. Both were RQ-7B Shadow aircraft from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2. The first happened June 24 and the second Sept. 10. One craft was recovered the same day it went down in the Neuse River. The other was recovered three months later in the river. Both craft were returned to their squadron to be assessed for future use.

IOC of F-35B

Fleet Readiness Center East workers met a key July 1 date for sending out modified F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, setting the stage for the aircraft to obtain initial operating capability. That means the fifth-generation jet could operate from forward bases. The attainment of IOC came after sea trials of the F-35B aboard the USS Wasp in May. The tests challenged the aircraft and its crews with a wide variety of flight and deck operations and laid the groundwork for future F-35B deployments aboard U.S. Navy amphibious carriers. The F-35B is replacing AV-8B Harriers, F/A-18 Hornets and EA-6B Prowlers in the Marine Corp arsenal.

Wildfang dies

The life and accomplishments of Henry Wildfang were celebrated upon his passing on June 25. The son of a Souix Indian, Wildfang was a former pilot of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 at Cherry Point. He had 23,000 flight hours, five distinguished flying crosses and 29 other air medals. VMGR-252 received The Henry Wildfang Award for 2015 from the Marine Corps Aviation Association.

Health clinic command change

Capt. Angela S. Nimmo took command of the Naval Health Clinic at Cherry Point from Capt. John F. Ferguson on July 10. Nimmo had previously been the commanding officer at Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms, Calif.

2nd MAW sergeant major

Sgt. Maj. Christopher G. Robinson turned over his position as sergeant major for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing to Sgt. Maj. Richard D. Thresher on June 5.

2nd MAW turns 74

The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing celebrated 74 years since its activation. Though started in San Diego, the wing has been at Cherry Point for most of that time. It is scheduled to turn 75 in 2016, the same year Cherry Point is scheduled to celebrate its 75 anniversary.