After a six-month absence, the retired NASA F/A-18A Hornet aircraft that served as an iconic landmark in front of the Lancaster Municipal Stadium in Lancaster, Calif., for 17 years is back on its perch in front of “The Hangar” as the baseball stadium is known.
Sporting a fresh coat of paint, new logos and identification, the refurbished airframe was remounted on a new pedestal June 24 by crews from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s ground-support and transportation services contractor, Kay and Associates, with assistance from a large crane provided by Champion Crane.
Inscribed on each side of the fuselage below the cockpit canopy frame is the name of the late NASA research pilot and astronaut Gordon Fullerton – “Gordo” to those who knew him. Fullerton had flown a spectacular low-level flyover with a full-afterburner aileron-roll vertical ascent in a similar NASA F/A-18 over the stadium several years earlier as part of “NASA Night” activities prior to a Lancaster JetHawks baseball game.
The F/A-18, carrying NASA tail number 842, had been demounted from its pylon in front of the stadium entrance last Dec. 12 and transported overland to Building 703 at NASA Armstrong’s facility in nearby Palmdale for temporary storage and refurbishment, including fabrication of new mounting plates and related supporting structure. After city inspectors conducted a thorough inspection of the pole to verify its integrity, Armstrong personnel removed the former mounting plate and installed a new plate that displays the aircraft at a flatter angle than previously, which will aid in maintaining the structural integrity of the mounting and airframe.
Securely mounted on a flatbed trailer and escorted by the California Highway Patrol, the retired airframe was hauled back to the stadium during an overnight journey beginning at about 10 p.m. June 23, following a circuitous route around the east side of Palmdale and Lancaster before heading west and south to the stadium.
The 13th F/A-18 to be built, the early-model aircraft was used for developmental testing by the Navy. It was then flown as a mission support aircraft by NASA’s Dryden – now Armstrong — Flight Research Center from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s when it was retired. The aircraft is on long-term loan to the City of Lancaster for exhibit. Weighing about 16,300 lbs. empty, the aircraft was stripped of its engines, landing gear, avionics and life support systems prior to its original transfer to the city for display.