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California and the West

A Blast Into the Past

September 10, 1998

Even for those at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station who've never flown the mighty jets--never strapped on an oxygen mask and felt the flattening, G-force pull of a $28-million, supersonic plane--it still hurt to watch the last of the base's F/A-18 Hornet fighters take off Wednesday for good.

"There's something about these birds," said Joe Doman, a 23-year-old Marine who has never sat in the cockpit of one of the fighter jets but is in charge of making sure they are safe to fly. "They make my heart pound like you read about."

The Kansas native gave the nod to launch his final batch of jets from El Toro on Wednesday, sending 17 of the combat planes blasting toward the Santa Ana Mountains for the last time.

Next summer's scheduled base closure has transferred the squadron to Miramar, the San Diego naval air station made famous by the movie "Top Gun," where they will begin what several Marines have dubbed "the take-off of an era."

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