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.
A few platforms with a decidedly long life are fading away this week with others being on their last legs.
The Republic of Ireland in 1972 picked up nine French-built Cessna 172 variants which have proved solid workhorses in the past 47 years. The Reims Rocket FR172H were originally intended for border patrol during “The Troubles” and could be fitted with a pair of Matra rocket pods under each wing.
Over the course of 63,578 hours clocked up (7k hours per airframe), they fulfilled various roles besides border surveillance including “explosive escorts, cash escorts, in-shore maritime surveillance, target towing, bog surveys, wildlife surveys, general transportation flights, and even one air ambulance mission.”
They will be replaced by a trio of (unarmed) Pilatus PC-12NG Spectres.
Meanwhile, as noted by Naval Air Forces Atlantic, the last Navy F/A-18C Hornet, aircraft number 300, made its official final active-duty flight at Naval Air Station Oceana, Oct. 2.
“Assigned to the Navy’s East Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 at Cecil Field, Florida, aircraft number 300 completed its first Navy acceptance check flight Oct. 14, 1988. Lt. Andrew Jalali, who piloted the Hornet for its final flight was also born in 1988.
The aircraft has remained with the Gladiators for its entire 31-years of service. The aircraft took off from NAS Oceana accompanied by three F/A-18F Super Hornets for a one-and-a-half-hour flight and return to Oceana where it will be officially stricken from the inventory, stripped of all its usable parts and be scrapped.”
Notably, the Marines still fly the type while overseas allies such as Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Finland, Spain, Malaysia, and Kuwait also keep the older Hornets around.
Meanwhile, in semi-related news, the “Rhino” looks short-listed to be adopted by the Germans to replace their increasingly aged Panavia Tornados. Then-West Germany went with the swing-wing Cold War classic in 1974 to replace the scary dangerous F-104 Starfighter for both ground strike/air defense by the Luftwaffe and maritime strike in the Baltic by the Bundesmarine’s Marinefliegerkommando.
How about some of that old school 1970s Tornado goodness?
Today, just 90~ active Tornados are left of the original 359 picked up by Bonn and are slated to be phased out by 2025. The RAF has already put the type out to pasture while the Italians are not far behind.
Apparently, it is the Super Hornet’s easy likelihood of being able to quickly be cleared to carry NATO-pooled B61 tactical nukes– a mission currently dedicated to the German Tornados– that gave it the upper hand over the Eurofighter Typhoon and others.
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!