Captain Monica “Moose” Marusceac is a Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier pilot. I learned that she is the second ever female AV-8B combat pilot. At the Watsonville Fly-In and Air Show she flew a demo in her AV-8 Harrier and I got to speak with her.
I was commissioned in 2001 into the Marine Corps in December. I did not do ROTC or come from a military family. I really just wanted to fly and I also like the Marine Corps and their ethos and what they stand for, so it seemed like the perfect mix to fly for the Marine Corps.
I went to OCC which is Officer’s Candidate Course at a college after I graduated and like I said I got commissioned in 2001. I went to flight school and that took altogether, with the Marine training and flight school, about four years, so I was winged in 2005. Out of the flight school I selected Harriers. It's like a two-part thing, you go first to primary and you select helos, jets, or multi engine's and I got jets and then I went to advanced training in Kingsville and there you went to get winged you select either Harriers, Hornets, or Prowlers for the Marines. They gave me Harriers with the duty station of Yuma Arizona which is where I'm based out of right now. I've been flying the Harrier for four years.
So do you have any cool stories that you can share?
Cool stories ….. Usually they involve being scared around the boat, that's usually the scariest. They're not so much cool as they are mind blowing for me. In Southern California, just like here, there is the marine layer and low clouds over the water. On my most recent deployment we were doing what’s called workups where they have training ranges and the Harriers fly off the ship and they do simulated close air support for the guys on the ground right there in Camp Pendleton. So we took off and we went over to Camp Pendleton and we didn't have a ordinance but we talked to the guys on the ground and did our mission, it was like a four hour mission, we had tanker support and everything. So we were coming back at night my navigational aids stop working and that's the way you find boat. You find the boat with a TAC Cam in my flight lead, I was attached to my flight lead and his TAC Cam worked just fine. This was at night and the light level was high up above the clouds but as soon as we went down below the clouds, it was just darker then you can imagine. All I could see as I was flying on his wing was the exhaust from his hot nozzles it was just a glow and everything else was black. I could see the ship but the ship was very dimly lit because we were wearing night vision goggles so you know it was this kind of blurry mass of lights. I tried to lay what we call a mark point over the ship when we flew over it but it wasn't very precise because the ship keeps moving so the ship has a TAC Cam on it so as the ship keeps moving it keeps updating my distance, but when you just lay a point, that point remain stationary while the ship moves away.
Anyway to make a long story short, it was probably my scariest approach ever to the boat. We came into the break at about 300-350 knots and my lead broke and then I had to extend and then broke after him. So now I'm pretty far away from the ship, I don't really know where the ship is. I’m just seeing this little mass of lights off to the left side and I'm like okay I don't really know how far away I am from that. Usually we have always aids in the cockpit to say you're this far and turn here or whatever. So I just had the kind eyeballed it and I was way off the parameters of what you would normally fly and ended up coming into the ship at an angle. I ended up turning and I didn't want to lose sight of it and I was so wide I just set it up so I was pointing right at it but I couldn't really see if I was like this or like that, I just couldn't tell. And so I just slowed down and very slowly did almost a helicopter approach to the ship and just used my rudder pedals and kind of just turned the jet and landed. And I swear hands-down it was the scariest night of my life because, I had enough fuel to divert if I had to, but I still didn't have any navigational aids to get to other airports, so it was one of those you just want to land and have a drink afterwards, but we don't drink on the ship so that was not possible.
Have you been in combat?
I have flown combat sorties. Unfortunately I didn't get to drop any ordinance so but mostly what we did was close support and nontraditional ISAR to the FACS, the forward air controllers, or JTACS, joint terminal attack controllers, but things were winding down in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) so I didn't actually have to drop any bombs.
Now you get to do the demos. How do you like doing the demos?
Well you know this is my first demo today and I'm not a level III demo pilot so it's not going to be as cool as it normally is you know with the gear up transition stuff, but it still going to be a high-speed pass, come back for the break, hover, and Axel out. I’ll do a rolling vertical landing, FOD prevention, so two types of landed.
I have to see that!
Bring earplugs - it's really loud!
I haven't flown any civilian by the way, I know nothing about civilian aviation, and really I'm remiss. I should know more. So I'm learning from all these guys about the Stearman, the Extra, and the Pitts.
Maybe we can get Eddie to take you up!
Actually I'd I want to get my husband a ride. This year he's been very morally supportive, if I could get him a ride in my airplane I would but I can't.
Well, we know these guys so we'll put in a good word for you!
Think Eddie would like a passenger?
I wouldn't be surprised.
Really?! That would be phenomenal! Not for me though because I've got a cool job but my husband is a CH-53 pilot in the Sea Stallion, you know the helicopters they can pick up your house, that guy, and right now he took non-flying orders as we could be stationed together. Conveniently, he's going back to Miramar to fly the Super Stallion and I'm going to take non-flying orders to be with him so we'll be able to live in the same house. But you know the Marine Corps is not easy and they make no promises about married couples been stationed together.
“Moose” did a great job showing the crowd what the Harrier could do. You should have been there to hear the applause!
5/24/09 Interview by me, pictures by me and my dad