It looks like those who enjoy gazing up at the old Marine Corps A-4M Skyhawk attack jet that’s on display in the Orange County Civic Center Plaza will soon have to do their admiring at the Orange County Fairgrounds. The reason: there’s so much demolition and construction in the Civic Center that it’s become necessary to get the jet out of the way.
This Tuesday, April 23, the OC Board of Supervisors will vote on relocating the aircraft to Heroes Hall at the fairgrounds. The aircraft has been mounted between the county Hall of Administration and the Hall of Records since September 2008.
“The [county] CEO collaborated with OC Community Resources to identify alternate locations for the placement of the Skyhawk and recommended Heroes Hall,” states a county staff report on the proposed move. “Heroes Hall is a free, permanent, year-round museum and education center with exhibitions, performances and educational programs that celebrate the legacy of Orange County veterans and others who have served our nation.”
According to the proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the county and the Orange County Fair, the county will pay $206,000 to relocate the jet (that figure is more than double the $100,000 value placed on the jet by the Navy Department). In turn, the OC Fair will be responsible for moving the aircraft, maintaining it, and “building a new monument to honor Orange County veterans,” upon which the Skyhawk will sit. Because the jet has always been “on loan” to the county from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Florida, the county is legally prohibited from selling the jet, using it as collateral, or plastering it with sponsorships.
Douglas Aircraft completed the jet that’s on display in April 1970, which was specially designed for Marine Corps use. Many of these jets flew in and out of the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which is why the county has one in the first place.
All told, Douglas built nearly 3,000 Skyhawks for U.S. and foreign use, and they saw extensive use during the Vietnam War, Falklands War and first Gulf War, firing rockets and cannon rounds as well as dropping high explosive, cluster, and napalm bombs. The late Senator John McCain was sitting in an A-4 when he was nearly killed during a deadly deck fire on the USS Forrestal in July 1967, and again three months later when he was shot down over North Vietnam.
The move has to take place before Sept. 30, so the demolition of the Hall of Finance and Hall of Records buildings can happen on schedule, according to the county staff report.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.