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.
HOUSTON (May 6, 2020) The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, fly over Houston, Texas, May 6, 2020. The flyover was part of America Strong; a collaborative salute from the Navy and Air Force to recognize healthcare workers, first responders, military, and other essential personnel while standing in solidarity with all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Cody Hendrix/Released)
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.
A Sundowners’ Lot 10 F-18C, BuNo 163471, then assigned to Carrier Air Wing One Seven (CVW -17), climbs to an assigned altitude after completing a catapult launch from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) in 2002. The squadron shifted to Rhinos in 2006, leaving their well-used Charle Hornets to go to the Marines and the Blues. This particular Hornet, while flying with the Sharpshooters of VMFAT-101, crashed following hydraulic problem 3 miles east of MCAS Miramar, in 2006. (U.S. Navy photo by Captain Dana Potts.)
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.