Just before noon Wednesday, the last F/A-18C Hornet fighter jet stationed here flew off into the wild blue yonder, never to return as a Lemoore-based jet.
Piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Kristen Hansen, it was bound for Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., where it will be assigned to another squadron.
The departure, complete with the ceremonial low-altitude flyby at 500 mph, means that the 200 jet fighters now stationed at Lemoore are exclusively F/A-18 Super Hornets, a larger, more advanced version of the legacy Hornet.
“It’s the end of an era for Naval Air Station Lemoore,” said Lt. Chuck Jones, a pilot in strike fighter squadron VFA-113.
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It’s the end of an era for Naval Air Station Lemoore.
Lt. Chuck Jones
The transition to all Super Hornets means the base has some of the latest aircraft technology at its disposal, said Capt. Markus Gudmundsson, deputy commodore of Lemoore-based Strike Fighter Wing U.S. Pacific, which oversees 16 jet fighter squadrons.
“Not only does this transition signify the commitment of our nation to equip our men and women with some of the most sophisticated hardware, it also illustrates NAS Lemoore’s continuing relevance in projecting our national power,” he said.
The squadron has historical ties to the legacy Hornet because the first one in the Navy was assigned to the squadron in 1983.
“We were the first in the Navy to get the F-18,” Jones said. “We’re the last in Lemoore to have it.”
Dozens of Navy personnel at the squadron held a barbecue and watched the final takeoff of the $29 million jet.
The Hornet is a twin-engine, twin-tail fighter jet originally made by McDonnell Douglas as the replacement for the A-7 Corsair II used in the Vietnam War.
The first version was an F/A-18A, later to be replaced by the upgraded F/A-18C.
The jet that Hansen powered off into the clouds was deployed last year on the USS Carl Vinson for use against ISIS targets in Operation Inherent Resolve.
In a nod to its final duty on the Vinson, one of the two tails was stenciled “Last Ride June 2015.”
Next for the squadron is to finish training on the $57 million Super Hornet – they’re new from the factory and already on the base – in anticipation of switching over by midyear, with the transition to begin in March.
It should be seamless, Jones said. The base has been home to Super Hornets since the 1990s, and the cockpit is very similar to the legacy Hornet.
“From a pilot’s perspective, it’s incredibly exciting,” Jones said. “It’s analogous to moving up from a flip phone to a smartphone.”