From One Hornet to Another

In the year of COVID-19, air show crowds around the United States did not have the opportunity to witness traditional flight demonstrations by the Blue Angels Their sole public appearances were special flyovers around the United States, sometimes in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, and one final formation flight around the team’s home base in Pensacola, FL.

These flights represented the last ones for the legacy F/A-18 Hornet, an aircraft flown by the team since 1987. The Blue Angels will celebrate their 75th anniversary in 2021 flying their first new aircraft in decades, the F/A-18E Super Hornet.

As the manager of the Navy’s aircraft loan program, the National Naval Aviation Museum has had no trouble placing a number of the retired Hornets with the distinctive blue and gold paint scheme in museums around the country. Others were earmarked for a different purpose; their parts will help make two other Hornets whole for eventual display.

This pair of F/A-18Cs, perhaps the most historic in history because LCDR Mark Fox and LT Nick Mongillo each shot down an Iraqi MiG-21 while flying them in Operation Desert Storm, arrived at the museum in summer 2019 missing many parts. The skilled staff and volunteers of the museum’s Aircraft Restoration Division have been putting together the puzzle using components from jets that for years have wowed tens of thousands of people. The result is a patchwork of blue and gray for now that will eventually be masked by the Desert Storm paint scheme of the VFA-81 Sunliners. The first of the restored jets, Bureau Number 163508 flown by Fox, should be completed in early 2021, the 30th anniversary of the air campaign in which it flew into history.