USS Carl Vinson flies last legacy Hornets during RIMPAC drills
HONOLULU — This month’s Rim of the Pacific exercise in Hawaii will mark the end of the line for the Navy’s “Baby Hornets.”
Ten F/A-18C multirole supersonic combat jets on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier will be traded for newer, larger F/A-18E Super Hornets in January, said Lt. Kevin Frattin, the “senior-junior” officer for Strike Fighter Squadron 34 out of Virginia Beach, Va.
“You’re not going to see a Hornet on an aircraft carrier, at least with U.S. Navy painted on it, ever again,” he said during a tour of the carrier on Saturday.
Strike Fighter Squadron 34, known as the “Blue Blasters,” traces its heritage back 75 years to an F6F Hellcat squadron aboard the USS Enterprise during World War II in the Pacific. It’s the only operational Hornet squadron still flying, although another squadron that simulates enemy jets still flies the aircraft.
The jets are, perhaps, the most visible symbol of the American military might that the Navy has been showing off to visitors on the carrier.
The legacy Hornet, which some claim is nimbler and more agile than its replacement, will be missed by pilots, Frattin said.
“It’s a lot of fun to fly,” he said. “For some things we could do, we were the only ones who could do it.”
‘Showcasing America’s might’ So far during RIMPAC, the Carl Vinson has hosted more than 200 distinguished visitors, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said aboard the carrier on Saturday.
“We are showcasing America’s might, but we’re also showcasing America’s commitment … to sustaining strong partnerships that we’ve had in the Indo-Pacific for a very long time,” he said.
During RIMPAC, “America’s Favorite Carrier” has acted as a seaward hub for navy leaders and dignitaries. Each day, its wardrooms or officer’s galley have bristled with brass and the flags of foreign nations.
The carrier hosted more 8,000 people for tours on RIMPACs opening week at Pearl Harbor in late June.
“[The Carl Vinson] is a hub not only for our leadership of the carrier strike group but it’s also a platform for hosting dignitaries and foreign leaders, explaining to them the Navy’s mission and role,” Hawkins said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Callie Riley, 24, who works at the ship’s store and helped sell $40,000 worth of merchandise – mostly Zippo lighters – during a recent port call in Vietnam, has seen more foreign sailors during RIMPAC than most crewmembers.
“They’re usually in here looking for coins and other goodies,” he said, said pointing to racks of junk food and Navy ballcaps. “They’re very interested in what we have to offer.”
The Carl Vinson has been the go-to warship for the Navy in the Pacific with an extended deployment last year off the Korean Peninsula. In March, it became the first U.S. carrier to visit Vietnam since the war.
During RIMPAC, the ship hasn’t been involved in much training and isn’t hosting foreign sailors like the amphibious USS Bonhomme Richard, which has an Australian commodore, foreign marines and international staff on board.