First Prowler squadron to end its mission this year

Cherry Point will mark its 75th anniversary in 2016, and the base will be inviting everyone to a big celebration.

The Cherry Point Air Show is scheduled for April 29, 30 and May 1, just one of the happenings that will shape the base in the coming year.

“We’re going to combine the 75th-year anniversary into the air show itself,” said Mike Barton, director of public affairs for the base.

The air show will feature the Blue Angels. The Navy jet demonstration team will be making its first appearance at Cherry Point since 2010.

“The Blue Angels is always the premier act that we want to get, and this year we’ve got them,” Barton said. “They are considered the world’s top aviation aerobatic team and we are happy to have them this year to do their thing, which is to put on shows for all three days of the air show. We’re going to have a lot of other performers here as well, but the Blue Angels obviously are a big draw.”

Funding for construction of Cherry Point was approved and work started in 1941. The base was well on its way to opening when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, thrusting the United States into World War II. Three months later, the first planes landed at Cherry Point.

Various types of aircraft have called Cherry Point home in its 75 years, and one of those is set to begin its swansong in 2016. The first of the base’s four EA-6B Prowler squadrons is scheduled to be deactivated this summer. Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 will park its six Prowlers for the final time as the Marine Corps begins to phase out use of the aging aircraft. By 2020, EA-6B Prowlers were no longer be a part of the Cherry Point flight line.

Barton said the deactivation of the squadron would not result in a major loss of personnel at the base.

“It’s going to be a pretty small impact here at Cherry Point as far as people actually leaving,” he said. “Obviously some of the pilots and crews that they have trained are going to go over to the other Prowler squadrons. Some of them will transition to other types of aircraft, and the same with the maintainers.

“They just don’t go away. They are going to move into other aviation niches or carry on what they are doing with the remaining Prowler squadrons or move to other jobs in the Marine Corps.”

A couple of base construction projects will continue in 2016, including work on a $29.7 million unmanned aerial systems facility for Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, as well as a $4.8 million KC-130J Enlisted Air Crew Trainer Facility.

However, what residents may notice most in 2016 is the removal of trees off U.S. 70 near the Slocum Road gate. The work is in preparation for construction of the Slocum Road flyover interchange, which is designed to allow easier access to Cherry Point while helping to improve safety at the U.S. 70-Slocum Road intersection. The actual construction of the interchange is not scheduled to start until 2017.

“This will put a huge amount of relief on the traffic getting onto the base in the morning in particular because that’s kind of a dangerous intersection there where folks have to cross over to get to the gate coming from the west,” Barton said. “In the morning there is a lot of traffic coming on the base so what this will do is relieve all that pressure.”