That Time a Navy Hornet Shot Down a Navy Hawkeye

E-2C recovers while F/A-18C waits on deck. Official US Navy photograph

Sadly Blue on Blue Sometimes Happens, But There’s More to This Story

On July 8th 1991, a US Navy Grumman E-2C Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft was shot down by a US Navy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet approximately 40 miles southeast of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Hornet utilized its M61A1 20 millimeter Vulcan cannon to splash the Hawkeye. There were no casualties. This was not a blue-on-blue mishap. Because this shoot-down was not an accident.

VFA-137 F/A-18C. Official US Navy photograph

When Do You Have to Sink Your Own?

The Hawkeye, belonging to Carrier Early Warning Squadron ONE TWO TWO (VAW-122) Steeljaws, experienced an inflight fire in its starboard side Allison T-56-A427 turboprop engine nacelle during a routine monitoring mission while assigned to Carrier Air Wing SIX (CVW-6) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59). Forrestal was in the area as part of the forces committed to Operation Provide Comfort. The aircraft’s onboard fire suppression systems were unable to extinguish the fire. With few options available to them and the Hawkeye’s crew in grave danger, a decision had to be made quickly.

VAW-121 E-2C. Official US Navy photograph

A Harrowing Experience That Ended Safely for the Crew

The Hawkeye, AKA Hummer, carried a crew of five- pilot LCDR John M. Yurchak, co-pilot LT Vincent C. Bowhers, Jr., and systems operators/controllers LTJG Robert A. Forwalder, LTJG John S. Lemmon, and LTJG Terry S. Morris. Knowing that the aircraft was not recoverable and fearing that the E-2C might fly into a populated area before coming down on its own, the aircraft commander ordered the crew to exit the aircraft and they did so via parachute. Then LT William “Maggot” Reilly, flying a VFA-132 Privateers F/A-18C Hornet, gunned the Hawkeye down. Ironically, “Maggot” scored the Forrestal’s first aerial victory during this “engagement.” All five Steeljaws crew members were rescued with no significant injuries by HS-15 Red Lions Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King helos from the Forrestal and by the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Yorktown (CG-48).

HS-15 SH-3H. Official US Navy photograph

CVW-6 Lineup Aboard the Forrestal in the Med

During this, Forrestal’s final combat deployment, CVW-6 consisted of VF-11 Red Rippers and VF-31 Tomcatters flying the Grumman F-14A Tomcat, VFA-132 Privateers and VFA-137 Kestrels flying the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet, VA-176 Thunderbolts flying the Grumman A-6E Intruder, VAW-122 Steeljaws flying the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, VAQ-133 Wizards flying the Grumman EA-6B Prowler, VS-28 Gamblers flying the Lockheed S-3B Viking, and HS-15 Red Lions flying the Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King. The deployment began on May 30th 1991 and concluded on December 21st 1991.

USS Forrestal marking 108 days at sea. Official US Navy photograph