The Navy's F/A-18 'Legacy' Hornets have made their final cruise aboard an aircraft carrier. VFA-34 "Blue Blasters" had the honor of putting the F/A-18C through its final operational deployment aboard the USS Carl Vinson, which just returned from a three-month cruise. During that deployment, the Carl Vinson made history by being the first American aircraft carrier to make a port visit in Vietnam.
"On 11 April 2018, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 Blue Blasters ('NE-4xx') arrived back home at NAS Oceana (VA) after a three-month deployment with CVW-2 on board the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).
The F/A-18C squadron embarked on 5 January 2018 the Vinson. The deployment marked the sundown cruise of the US Navy F/A-18C Hornet.
CVW-3's VFA-131 Wildcats ('AC-3xx') and CVW-8's VFA-37 Bulls ('AJ-4xx') still operate the legacy F/A-18C Hornet but these squadrons will not deploy anymore with these types.
VFA-34 will transition to F/A-18E Super Hornet in the upcoming months, likewise followed by VFA-131 and VFA-37."
We quickly contacted the Navy's Pacific Fleet headquarters to verify the report and initially, they seemed as surprised and interested as we were. They quickly put us in contact with Commander Ronald Flanders, spokesman for Commander Naval Air Forces, who confirmed that this was indeed the last cruise for the Navy's Legacy Hornets.
VFA-34, as part of the Carl Vinson's Carrier Air Wing Two, is still scheduled to take part in the Navy's Rim of the Pacific multi-national war games this summer, but that will only be a short training deployment aboard the carrier. The squadron will transition to the Super Hornet early next year. The Blue Blasters originally from A-6 Intruders to F/A-18 Hornets back in 1996.
Legacy Hornets will still remain in the Navy's inventory for a variety of roles going forward, including serving in reserve and aggressor squadrons, at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center at NAS Fallon, and with a handful of other squadrons that will also be transitioning to the Super Hornet fairly soon. Commander Flanders also noted that the Legacy Hornet is ending its carrier deployment carrier while VFA-147 "Argonauts" are transitioning to the F-35C, the first front-line strike-fighter squadron to do so thus far.
With its recently expanded budget, the Navy is ordering dozens of extra Super Hornets in the advanced Block III configuration over the coming years, as well as beginning to field the F-35C to operational units. The seagoing service is also starting to put its oldest Super Hornets through a service life extension upgrade. All combined, this new plan will allow many Navy F/A-18A+s and F/A-18Cs to be transferred to the USMC to help bolster their very tired Hornet fleet both in terms of providing fresher aircraft and a ton of dearly needed spare parts.
So even though it's always a bitter-sweet moment when any aircraft type ends a major portion of its operational run, Legacy Hornets will be around for at least another decade, and likely even after that with the help of some targeted upgrades. The sweetest part is that the Navy is getting a bunch of new aircraft to replace their fleet Legacy Hornets with and those jets have exciting new capabilities some of which the service has waited decades to acquire.
In retrospect, the first operational cruise of the F/A-18 Hornet occurred when strike-fighter squadrons VFA-25 and VFA-113 deployed aboard USS Constellation in 1985—33 years ago.
That's one hell of a run.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com