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Museum of Ephemera

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Aircraft Displayed at NAS Miramar

NAS Miramar (that’s Naval Air Station) was the home of the Naval Fighter Weapons School (NFWS), also known as Top Gun, and I suppose some of the scenes from that tiresome film were filmed there. Today the Marines have taken over, and Top Gun has relocated to Fallon, Nevada. The thing about Top Gun was that they always had interesting and different airplanes playing the role of aggressors. For a while they were using Israeli Kfirs, but unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of one. Ditto F-5’s. But they did use A-4s and the little known F-16N, and in the mid-90’s they put some out on display. One day I stopped and took pictures. Then I went to visit the original Miramar Gate Guards. An old F-4 and F-8 had been on display on pedestals at Miramar for as long as I could remember (mid-70’s). They has been there so long that they could only be seen from a road that used to be the main road, but had been supplanted by the highway for at least 15 years. I remember they had been falling apart for quite some time, but when I took these pictures they had recently been restored. None of these planes are at Miramar anymore, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been ground up for scrap. Read on to learn what I have discovered about the Miramar Gate Guards and display squadron.

Also, Miramar has not lost anything, since the Marine Corps Air Museum from El Toro has moved down, and they have an excellent selection of airplanes. Other nearby places are the San Diego Aerospace Museum, the March Field Museum, the Chino Air Museum, Planes of Fame (right next to Chino), and the Palm Springs Air Museum.

This website provided the serial numbers for some of these aircraft (the ones where I couldn’t tell from the picture).

A-4F Skyhawk

A-4F Skyhawk

Same aircraft as above. What’s interesting is that in the above picture the word NAVY is easily seen, whereas on this side of the plane it says MARINES. You can just see the M forward of the elevator. This is in honor of the A-4 being used by both the Navy and the USMC. You can also clearly see the NFWS insignia high on the tail in both pictures.

F-14A Tomcat

This is Grumman F-14A #158978, the finest fighter aircraft ever. This is what would have been trying to shoot down the poor A-4. Let’s examine the markings on this aircraft. Notice the teeth painted on the nose. According to the VF-111 website (see below), that would make this “Miss Molly”, a specially painted plane designed for use by the commanding officer of the Carrier Air Group to which this squadron was assigned. The “Miss Molly” painted on the side, below the cockpit seems to be missing (it’s not on the other side, either). See the 200 just behind the teeth? That is the number used to identify the aircraft within the airwing. The “2” indicates that it is the second squadron on the ship, while the “00” indicates that it is the airplane of the squadron’s commanding officer, i.e., his name will be painted under the cockpit. Does that mean he will always be the one flying this plane? No, any pilot can fly any plane, but if the CO does fly, it will probably be in this plane. During operations this aircraft will be referred to as “Tomcat 00”. Not visible in this shot is the aircraft’s squadron designation, VF-111. The squadron designation system was developed long ago, and parts of it are archaic. The “V” stands for “heavier than air”, so as to differentiate them from blimps, which were of course lighter than air. That’s why all the squadrons in the Navy begin with “V”. The “F” stands for fighter, A stands for attack, S stands for ASW (anti-submarine warfare), etc. The squadron number, 111, means that this is the 111th fighter squadron ever put together in the Navy. Squadrons come and go all the time, and squadrons are not numbered consecutively. Some squadrons have never been decommissioned, like VF-1 and VF-2, I think. The “NL” on the tail indicates to which Carrier Air Wing the squadron belongs. Since air wings tended to move around, it can be difficult to associate an airwing with a particular carrier. For example, in 1972 the USS Constellation and the USS Enterprise swapped air wings (NG and NK). The only constant is that west coast wings start with N and east coast wings start with A. As best I can tell, given the mid-70s style paint job, NL is CVW-15, assigned to USS Kitty Hawk. The tail art is representative of the squadron’s nickname, the Sundowners. VF-111 was disestablished in 1995. This was apparently the 39th F-14 built. This plane is now on display at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego bay (although I haven’t personally verified that).

F-16N Falcon

General Dynamics F-16N #163277. The Navy ordered a few F-16s to serve as aggressors to replace the aging A-4s and F-5s. These F-16s were stripped of their advanced electronics, but were otherwise the same as USAF F-16s. This one has an interesting camo scheme, and unlike the A-4, says NAVY on both sides. This plane is now at the Palm Springs Air Museum, almost unchanged.

E-2B Hawkeye

F-4B Phantom II

This is McDonnell F-4B #148408, which mysteriously is shown as #153019. The real 153019 is in Key West, apparently, and was upgraded to F-4N status. Given that this plane had been on display at Miramar since the mid-70s, it is almost certainly a “B”. Shown as a member of VF-121, the Pacemakers, the F-4 training squadron based at Miramar. Pilots, prior to being assigned to their first squadron, first go to a training squadron for the particular kind of aircraft they will be flying. These squadrons are part of the “Replacement Air Group” or RAG, and the callsign for the west coast RAG was NJ. The current whereabouts of this proud warplane are unknown. Why the Marines thought they had to take these planes down, I don’t know.

F-8 Crusader

Miramar was also the home of several E-2 squadrons. This made sense since the jet jockeys had to learn how to work and play with their controllers, the E-2s. This is probably Grumman E-2B #150536, in the colors of VAW-117, the Wallbangers, flying from USS Abraham Lincoln as part of CVW-11. I was informed that the this plane was repainted yearly in the colors of the squadron that had won the Battle “E”, and that VAW-117 had won in 1993, which was in fact the last deployment of the E-2B. The fate of this plane is unknown.

 

 

This is Douglas A-4F #155025, used as a Top Gun aggressor. Most pilots agree that the Scooter was a most excellent aircraft. Not supersonic, it was however very maneuverable and always gave the F-14s a run for their money in dogfights. This plane apparently is not far removed from the flightline, as this picture purports to show the same aircraft in 1991. This aircraft moved, unchanged, to NAS Fallon, as this picture shows.

Vought F-8 Crusader #143755. This plane stood alongside the F-4 pictured above. This was painted as #149216, for some reason. Painted in the colors of VF-124, the Gunslingers, also a member of the Miramar RAG. F-8s were assigned to VF-124 for just a short while before being replaced by F-14s. Current whereabouts unknown.

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