What's going on with Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets this year?

Search and rescue efforts are underway for the pilot of a United States Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet who was forced to eject from his aircraft 120 miles southeast of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

According to a Marine Corps news release, the Hornet was assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force and was on what the Marines described as a regular training mission when it went down.

An investigation into why the pilot was forced to eject is underway.

open-hatch-marine-aerial-refueler

Cpl. Chris Lawler, a crewmaster with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 152, observes an F/A-18C Hornet with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122 approach the refueling hose during Exercise Pitch Black 2016 at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, Aug. 9, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg)

This latest mishap marks the fourth crashed or badly damaged Marine Corps Hornet so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

In October, an F/A-18C crashed on approach at Twentynine Palms, California, and in November, two Hornets collided in mid-air, losing one plane and badly damaging another.

So far the Marine Corps has suffered five major flight mishaps this year, while the service suffered eight in all of fiscal 2016.

The Marine Corps has had serious problems with its Hornet fleet specifically, including the need to pull nearly two dozen from the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base this past summer. It was unclear whether this one was of the “boneyard” birds, a Navy hand-me-down or a plane in the Corps’ regular inventory.

Marine Hornets had a rough summer, with a number of crashes prompting a 24-hour stand-down.

However, the August timeout seems to have had little effect, as FoxNews.com reported that there have been four incidents since October, including a mid-air collision between two Hornets in November.

The baseline F/A-18 Hornet has been out of production since Fiscal Year 1997, and the line now only produces the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare plane.

The Marines plan to replace both their F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B+ Harriers with the F-35B Lightning II. The F-35B has seen some delays, but was introduced in July, 2015. Marine Corps Lightnings are expected to operate off HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021 due to a shortage of airframes in the Fleet Air Arm.

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