The National Naval Aviation Museum has just unveiled their recently-restored, combat-veteran F/A-18C Hornet (BuNo.163508) in a place of honor just outside the Blue Angel Atrium at their main campus in Pensacola, Florida. This Hornet is of particular significance, because LCDR Mark “MRT” Fox is credited with shooting down an Iraqi Air Force MiG-21 while flying the aircraft on January 17th, 1991, the opening day of the first Gulf War.
This aircraft first arrived at Pensacola aboard a flatbed truck back in August 2019, as we reported two years ago HERE. She was in a sorry state of disrepair at the time, and arrived concurrently with the hulk of another U.S. Navy Gulf War MiG-killing Hornet. The latter aircraft is F/A-18C BuNo.163502 in which Lt Nicholas “Mongo” Mongillo shot down a Chinese-made Iraqi Air Force MiG-21. Both aircraft served aboard the carrier USS Saratoga (CV 60) at the time, and their shoot-downs occurred within moments of each other in the same action, marking the only U.S. Navy air-to-air victories during the Gulf War. The images below show how bedraggled both aircraft appeared two years ago, each of them also missing a variety of components.
The restoration team at Pensacola have yet to touch Mongillo’s Hornet, although it does remain in store at the museum. They focused their efforts on BuNo.163508, and sourced a good number of components for this effort from some of the former Blue Angels legacy Hornets which were parted out at Pensacola.
The aircraft has been repainted into the same markings she wore while serving with VFA-81 Sunliners off USS Saratoga (CV 60) on that fateful day in January, 1991 when LCDR Mark “MRT” Fox and his flight of four Hornets approached Al Walid Air Base H-3 in Iraq… albeit, she now sports the MiG-victory markings on her nose.
The aircraft will eventually go on display inside Hangar Bay One alongside a MiG-21 painted to represent the Iraqi Air Force example this aircraft shot down during the first day of the Gulf War in January, 1991. The Hornet will become a centerpiece for the envisioned expansion of the museum’s exhibit focusing upon U.S. Central Command’s Area Of Responsibility (AOR).