Mark Forest produces a photo report for AeroResource from the Headquarters of Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, Kings County California – the US Navy’s largest master jet base, Naval Air Station Lemoore.
Commissioned in 1961 NAS Lemoore-Reeves Field was the last Air Station to be built for the United States Navy. It has 2 large offset parallel runways which each measure 4115 metres (13502feet) in length and covers a total of 30’000 acres of land. Over a period of 12 months tens of thousands of carrier landings are practiced on these concrete runways.
Home to all the west coast F/A-18 squadrons this master jet base has assigned to it 5 Carrier Air Wings.
CARRIER AIR WINGS
CAW-2 (CVW-2) USS Abraham Lincoln
CAW-5 (CVW-5) Deployed to NAS Atsugi, Japan
CAW-9 (CVW-9) USS John C Stenos
CAW-11 (CVW-11) USS Nimitz
CAW-14 (CVW-14) USS Ronald Reagan
The base controls all F/A-18s assigned to the Pacific fleet, this command is know as Commander Naval Air Force US Pacific Fleet (COMNAVAIRPAL). It has 19 Hornet squadrons assigned with in excess of 200 Legacy and Super Hornet aircraft. Units on strength at Lemoore are:
VFA-2 Bounty Hunters VFA-14 Tophatters
VFA-14 Top hatters VFA-25 Fist of the Fleet
VFA-27 Royal Maces VFA-41 Black Aces
VFA-94 Mighty Shrikes VFA-97 Warhawks
VFA-102 Diamond Backs VFA-113 Stingers
VFA-115 Eagles VFA-122 Flying Eagles
VFA-137 Kestrels VFA-146 Blue Diamonds
VFA-147 Argonauts VFA-151 Vigilantes
VFA-154 Black Knights VFA-192 Golden Dragons
VFA-195 Dam Busters
VFA-27 NAS Atsugi
VFA-102 NAS Atsugi
VFA-192 NAS Atsugi
VFA-195 NAS Atsugi
There was a 20th Squadron, VFA-125, based but all aircraft were transferred to VFA-122 on October 1st 2010.The Rough Raiders of VFA-125 have been slated to become a F-35 Lightning II training unit in the up coming years.
The Flying Eagles of VFA-122 are the west coast Legacy and Super Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) and operates over 70 aircraft. VFA-122s mission is to train/replace pilots and weapons systems officers to support the commitment of the Pacific fleet.
The team arrived at 1.30pm and was greeted by the always friendly Melinda Larson Head of Public Affairs on base. First stop the control tower viewing platform, this gave rise to some stunning panoramic views of the base and was perfectly located between both runways. Some 30 minutes up here would have us photographing 100’s of Hornets on the ramps, many Hornets landing and the star visitor for the day was a EA-6B Prowler of VAQ-140 in for a quick gas n go. Lucky for us it taxied towards the tower and then parked next to the weapons school, which was right below the tower.
Next stop on our tour was to be beside the landing signals on the right hand runway. 1 hour was spent here at various touchdown and taxiing points. I would call this the crazy hour, at times between 4-6 aircraft were in the pattern to land, behind us on the left hand taxiway VFA-41 Super Hornets approaching awaiting departure on the right hand taxiway VFA-94 Hornets lined up one after another and from the ramps engines firing up for more Squadron departures. It was very hard to know which position to be in or where to point the camera. After the mad hour had passed it was time to move on as time was starting to run short, as we were entering the van someone shouted “CAG Bird” straight back out the van and a sprint to the touchdown point. Yes indeed a CAG Bird, not 1 but 2, First an F/A-18E from VFA-14 Tophatters then an F/A-18C from VFA-97 Warhawks what a way to end our time by the runway, 4 very happy photographers.
Final stop of our visit was to be a ramp and hanger tour of the Flying Eagles of VFA-122 with many of the aircraft of VFA-125 mixed in. With VFA-122 not flying that afternoon we were allowed to walk around the ramp freely under the supervision of our Squadron escort. The access was second to none and with no movements and perfect light some great angles could be captured up and down the lines of Hornets. Around the ramp and in the barns 3 specially marked F/A-18s were photographed, An B model in two tone green & white camo, a A model in 3 tone grey camo and under the sun barns was a E model in digital scheme marked 100 years of Naval Aviation. To end our superb afternoon on Lemoore we were treated to 5 minutes in the hanger to photograph yet another special marks aircraft this time an all over white F/A-18B.
Finally it was time to say our farewells and head back in the van to the main gate, this had been a very successful day for us all great hosts, lots of Hornets and above all perfect weather conditions, with this combination your really cannot go wrong. Before Melinda said her farewell she invited us all back in October 2011 to NAS Lemoore’s very special anniversary air show. Not only is it 100 years of US Naval aviation but the 50th anniversary of the air station with some mass flypasts planned and some very choice foreign aircraft invited.
The team and myself would like to thank our driver who stayed with us even though her day had finished an hour earlier, the Squadrons for allowing us access to visit their units and photograph the aircraft and finally PAO Melinda Larson for once again accommodating us this year, her hard work behind the scenes allowed us the perfect visit on base.
The author would like to thank Jason Grant, John Featherstone and Andrew Evans for sharing their photographs from the day.