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.
Boeing recently put out this interesting 5~ minute clip covering the past 50 years of the Blue Angels’ aircraft showcasing the F4J Phantom (1969-74), A-4F Skyhawk (1974-86) and F-18 Hornet (1986-present) with the key being that McDonnell Douglas is a “heritage company” to Boeing. It includes some sweet aerobatics.
For those curious, the Blues started just after WWII with F6F Hellcats and flew Grumman “cat” series fighters for the first 23 years of their existence to include the F8F Bearcat, F9F Cougar/Panther, and F11F Tiger, but of course it would be a little faux pas for Boeing to mention Northrop Grumman, co-maker with Lockheed-Martin of the F-35, Hornet’s primary rival these days.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Oct. 3, 2019) Offical Caption: “The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, fly in formation with the B-29 Superfortress “Doc” during the 2019 California Capital Air Show in Sacramento.
The Blue Angels are scheduled to conduct 61 flight demonstrations at 32 locations across the country to showcase the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to the American and Canadian public in 2019.”
For reference, Doc is one of only two B-29s that are currently flying, the other being FIFI. Built by Boeing as a late model B-29-70-BW, SN#44-69972, she came too late in WWII to see combat but did endue in USAF service as a radar calibration aircraft and target tug before she was retired to range use in 1956. Her restoration took nine years.
The Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 hosted a sundown service for the Charlie series F/A-18 last week. The Blasters were the last tactical squadron in the Navy flying the bird, most recently wrapping up a final deployment on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the South China Sea in 2018.
“Today our VFA-34 family and the operational farewells an old friend,” said Cmdr. William Mathis, commanding officer of VFA-34. “Born more than 40 years ago, the Hornet entered operational service for the U.S. Navy in 1984 and for the next 35 years, she proudly served the nation from the flight deck of aircraft carriers in all the seas across the globe.”
Now the only guys left operating the F-18C model are aggressor units such as the Fighter Squadron Composite (VFC) 12 and the River Rattlers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 204.
Oh yeah, and the Blues, who are set to transition to the Super Hornet in coming months.
And totally neglected air units such as the USMC guys, who will keep the F-18C around until 2030 (ish).
Flying Yesterday’s Hornet, Tomorrow!
ICYMI, check out these amazing images of the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron (Snowbirds) along with the USAF’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels. Some 151 years of friendship in one photo: three military jet teams from two countries sharing the skies over one common border. According to RCAF, it is the first time all three demonstration teams have flown together.
The oldest unit, the Pensacola-based Blues, formed in 1946 with F6F-5 Hellcats, are seen in their F-18C/Ds. Now the last Navy unit flying the older version of the Hornet (although the Marines will continue on) the Blues are expected to upgrade to the F-18E/F next year. They recently rocked Biloxi last month. I watched them from a kayak off Deer Island and they were great as usual.
The second oldest unit, the Nellis-based Thunderbirds, was formed in 1953 and have been rocking F-16C/Ds since 1993.
The Snowbirds, formed in 1971 as an evolution of the RCAF’s special Golden Centennaires group, has always flown the Canadair CT-114 Tutor, a downright cute two-place lead-in trainer produced in the 1960s. To put that into perspective, at the time the Snowbirds were formed, the Blues were flying the smoky Vietnam-era F-4J Phantom while the Thunderbirds were using the F-4E.
Two FA-18 Jets are displayed in front of the Wall of Fire during the Marine Corps Community Services sponsored 2015 Air Show aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, Calif., Oct. 3, 2015. The air show showcases civilian performances and the aerial prowess of the armed forces and their appreciation of the civilian community’s support and dedication to the troops. (U.S. Marine Corps Combat Camera photo by Cpl. Trever A. Statz/Released)