Over the year, the U.S. Navy has shot down its own aircraft a just handful of times—and usually by mistake, of course. But on July 8, 1991 the Navy shot down one of its planes on purpose. A stricken Hawkeye early warning airplane, its crew having bailed out, was shot down by a F/A-18 Hornet before it could pose a threat to a populated area.
This was one of the strangest shootdowns ever recorded, and it happened 27 years ago this month. As Avgeekery tells it, an operating from the USS Forrestal over the eastern Mediterranean Sea experienced a fire on its starboard engine. The Hawkeye is an airborne early warning and command and control platform. A modified , it is one of the largest aircraft operating from U.S. aircraft carriers. Each one has a 24-foot-wide rotating radar dome mounted above the fuselage, and a crew of five.
When a fire erupted on board, the fire suppression system aboard the Hawkeye failed to extinguish it. The pilot made the decision to issue the bail-out order. All five crew members fled the plane and were later rescued by Navy helicopters.
The stricken Hawkeye, however, limped on.
In many places, the Hawkeye could have been abandoned to its fate, allowed to fly on until it ran out of fuel and crashed. The eastern Med, however, is ringed with cities and other populated areas. Rather than risk the 19-ton airplane coming down where it might hurt somebody, the Navy made the decision to shoot it down while still over water. A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet from the Forrestal took position and opened fire with his onboard 20-millimeter Gatling gun, sending the Hawkeye crashing into the sea below.
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