MCAS El Toro 1990: Hey, I Remember That!

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Springtime in 1990; a large amount of military aviation history was about to be written about the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations in the months ahead.  Many Marine aircraft were still in vintage (well, vintage nowadays) dark color schemes, in preparation for operations in Europe or the Pacific, not in a desert environment. Soon, airframes like the A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom, and OV-10 Bronco would be phased out either just prior to the Gulf War, or a few years after it. Specifically, the Marine RF-4Bs would be replaced by F/A-18D ATARS-equipped aircraft before the Gulf War.  The A-4M Skyhawk and F-4S Phantoms that were operated by Reserve squadrons and would be replaced by early model F/A-18 Hornets. The OV-10A and -D Broncos would serve during Desert Storm before being retired; replaced by more twin-seat F/A-18D Hornets. A lot of squadrons, many with storied histories, stood down as these aircraft left the inventory.

At West Coast Master Jet Station MCAS El Toro, the home squadrons of F/A-18 Hornets welcomed other Marine aviation assets like KC-130s, AV-8 Harriers, OV-10 Broncos, and numerous helicopters from nearby MCAS Tustin and Camp Pendleton, for a weekend of air show excitement.  Drawing more than half a million spectators at the event, a few of these aircraft types would be displayed for the last time before they were parked in the Boneyard.

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A large draw to this  show was the Marine Combined Arms demonstrations, where different types of aviation assets were brought together to show how the Marines used their varied types of planes and helicopters together.  From fast jet reconnaissance to scouts parachuting from OV-10s, to air refueling Harriers and Hornets behind a KC-130, the air was filled with the “sounds of freedom”.  Booming pyrotechnics added to the realism and excitement.

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Non-Marine Corps aircraft included in the static display featured the California Air National Guard, Air Force, Navy and Army examples. Flight demonstrations included the F-14 Tomcat and F-16 Fighting Falcon, plus the Blue Angels.  Warbirds and civilian performers shared the stage too.  Even a few retired non flyable Marine aircraft were included in the large aircraft static display that was manned by enthusiastic crewmembers. During past and future shows, the Thunderbirds, Air Force F-15 Eagles and others were featured performers.

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MCAS El Toro would be shuttered in 1999, but not before some awesome air shows were held at the Orange County base.  This is the first of three El Toro air show reviews, with photos of some of the military and warbird participants at each one.  Here’s a look back almost a quarter century ago, to southern California and its rich aviation heritage that was presented during the early 1990s.

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