Flying yesterday’s Hornet, today
The Blues have been tearing it up across the country lately, making up scheduled hours canceled along with this summer’s air shows by performing with the Thunderbirds over the nation’s urban centers in a salute to healthcare workers.
For instance, over Chicago this week:
They have never looked better, you could argue, and thousands who haven’t seen them in action before are now getting a chance, which is no doubt good for recruiting efforts– one of the primary reasons demonstration programs exist.
However, most folks don’t realize just how old these birds are. Like Desert Storm/32 years on the airframe old.
The closest Hornet above, BuNo 163435, is an early Lot 10 F/A-18C— the first block that saw the Charlie birds introduced– produced in 1988. It formerly flew in the Fleet with the Sunliners of VFA-81 on a number of deployments including during Desert Storm where the squadron downed a pair of Saddam’s MiG-21s.
Besides the above instance, the Blues operate several other aircraft from the same lot, including BuNo 163442, 163464, and 163468. They are slated to upgrade to F-18E/Fs next year, at which point the F-18C/D will only be operated by the Marines, long used to being the last to fly a NAVAIR asset.
Outside of the Blues, the alumni aircraft are commonly only seen on static display. For reference, several other Lot 10s have been relegated to museum pieces for years, with BuNo 163437 as a gate guard at Norfolk, 163498 on display at Naval Reserve Station Smyrna, and 163502 on the grounds of the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola.