‘Vandy 1’ F/A-18F And U-2 Recreate Famous F-4 And SR-71 Photo

F/A-18F U-2 photo
An F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to the "Vampires" of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9), and a U-2 Dragonlady fly over Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jonathan Newbery). In the box the famous F-4 with SR-71 photo.

The “Vandy 1” Super Hornet of VX-9 and the U-2S of the AFLCMC got to recreate the famous formation over the Mojave Desert at the end of a test mission.

In 1972, the black painted flagship F-4J Phantom II of the Navy’s VX-4 “Evaluators” flew in formation with an Air Force SR-71 Blackbird, resulting in an amazing photo still famous today. Recently, the flagship F/A-18F Super Hornet of VX-9 “Vampires” got to recreate the famous formation photo with a U-2S of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at the end of their test missions over the Mojave Desert. According to the photo’s metadata, the formation was flown on Nov. 27, 2023, however the photos were published just few days ago.

The Navy applied last year the black livery on one of the Super Hornets of VX-9 for the unit’s 30th anniversary to pay tribute to the original one which was used on VX-4 commander’s F-4s and F-14s, also known as “Vandy 1”, a callsign originated from the abbreviation of the unit’s official callsign “Vanderbilt” used at the time. The all-black livery was first carried by an F-4J and featured white markings and a white Playboy Bunny on the tail, and because of this was referred to also as “Black Bunny”.

Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four was based at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, which is now part of NAS Ventura County, before merging with VX-5 “Vampires” to create today’s VX-9 “Vampires” based at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. After the original F-4J, the livery was also carried by the F-4S, F-14A and F-14D, with the Black Bunny replaced by the Vampire badge and XF code once the livery was applied to VX-9 aircraft.

The famous photo of the F-4J “Vandy 1” flying in formation with a SR-71 in 1972. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

VX-9, the AFLCMC and Edwards AFB’s share the same airspace, the R-2508 complex, they decided to recreate the famous F-4J/SR-71 formation using modern aircraft. This formation demonstrates the commitment to safe air range operations, said the Air Force, while further reinforcing positive test partnerships for the warfighter.

The R-2508 airspace is perhaps the most important multi-service special use airspace in North America and includes all the airspace and associated land presently used and managed by the three principal military activities in the Upper Mojave Desert region: NAWS China Lake, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Managed with contributions from Joshua Approach, SPORT, OSS and the 412th Range Squadron, the vast area allows for unmatched over-land test capabilities for all services and mission partners.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.