The final deployment of McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D legacy or classic Hornets at sea has concluded with the return of the USS Nimitz to the US on February 26.
The deployment of the Nimitz commenced in June 2020 and took in the Pacific and Indian Ocean operating areas. Embarked aboard the Nimitz was Carrier Air Wing 17 (CVW-17) which comprised several US Navy squadrons of F/A-18E/Fs, EA-18G Growlers, MH-60R/S Seahawks, and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323) ‘Death Rattlers’ flying the F/A-18C.
Prior to the Nimitz arriving back at Bremerton near Seattle, VMFA-323 flew off the carrier to its home base of Miramar Air Station in San Diego, marking the final ever carrier deployment of the classic Hornet. The squadron is the final USMC Hornet squadron assigned to the TACAIR Integration agreement with the Navy, meaning USMC Hornets will now be assigned to land bases only. The US Navy ceased carrier deployments of its own classic Hornet squadrons in 2018.
“It’s my pride and joy,” VMFA-323 commander, Lt Col William Mitchell told the San Diego Union-Tribune about the legacy Hornet. “I was the last aircraft off the deck today and my entire maintenance department, all my Marines, were lined up along the foul line and rendering a salute as I got shot down [catapult] 3 one more time. That was one of the more emotional moments. Knowing it’s the end of an era is certainly bittersweet.”
The Hornet is being replaced in USMC service by the F-35B and F-35C Lightning II. The short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B will be assigned to US Navy LHA/LHD vessels, while the F-35C will assume the TACAIR Integration role aboard aircraft carriers.