McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

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An F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-195 "Dambusters" prepares to take off from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66).

The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multirole fighter jet, designed to dogfight and attack ground targets (F/A designation for Fighter/Attack). Designed by McDonnell Douglas and Northrop, the F/A-18 was derived from the latter's YF-17 in the 1970s for use by the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The Hornet is also used by the air forces of several other nations. It has been the aerial demonstration aircraft for the U.S. Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, since 1986.

The F/A-18 has a top speed of Mach 1.8. It can carry a wide variety of bombs and missiles, including air-to-air and air-to-ground, supplemented by the 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon. It is powered by two General Electric F404 turbofan engines, which give the aircraft a high thrust-to-weight ratio. The F/A-18 has excellent aerodynamic characteristics, primarily attributed to its leading edge extensions (LEX). The fighter's primary missions are fighter escort, fleet air defense, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), air interdiction, close air support and aerial reconnaissance. Its versatility and reliability have proven it to be a valuable carrier asset, though it has been criticized for its lack of range and payload compared to its earlier contemporaries, such as the Grumman F-14 Tomcat in the fighter and strike fighter role, and the Grumman A-6 Intruder and LTV A-7 Corsair II in the attack role.

Canada ordered 138 Hornets directly from McDonnell Douglas, which were delivered as the CF-188A and CF-188B Hornets. These featured wingtip fences, high-powered lamps to illuminate intercepted aircraft, and other adaptions for Arctic Operations. By the 2000s, they had been retrofitted to F/A-18C/D specifications, including improved engines, upgraded avionics, and the ability to fire missiles such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM.

The F/A-18 Hornet provided the baseline design for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a larger, evolutionary redesign of the F/A-18. Compared to the Hornet, the Super Hornet is larger, heavier and has improved range and payload. The F/A-18E/F was originally proposed as an alternative to an all-new aircraft to replace existing dedicated attack aircraft such as the A-6. The larger variant was also directed to replace the aging Grumman F-14 Tomcat (although the F-35 replaced the A-6F and the F-14E Supercat replaced the F-14A/B/D), thus serving a complementary role with Hornets in the U.S. Navy, and serving a wider range of roles including refueling tanker. The Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic jamming platform was also developed from the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Variants[edit | edit source]

US variants[edit | edit source]

  • F/A-18A/B: Single seat fighter/attack version. In 1992, the original Hughes AN/APG-65 radar was replaced with the Hughes (now Raytheon) AN/APG-73, a faster and more capable radar. A-model Hornets that have been upgraded to the AN/APG-73 are designated F/A-18A+. The F/A-18B is a two seat training version of the F/A-18A. The space for the two-seat cockpit is provided by a relocation of avionics equipment and a 6% reduction in internal fuel; two-seat Hornets are otherwise fully combat-capable. The B-model is used primarily for training.
    • F/A-18R: Reconnaissance version of the F/A-18A. It included a sensor package that replaced the 20 mm cannon.
    • TF-18A: Two-seat training version of the F/A-18A fighter, later redesignated F/A-18B.
  • F/A-18C/D: The F/A-18C and D models are the result of a block upgrade in 1987 incorporating upgraded radar, avionics, and the capacity to carry new missiles such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile and AGM-65 Maverick and AGM-84 Harpoon air-to-surface missiles. Other upgrades include the Martin-Baker NACES (Navy Aircrew Common Ejection Seat), and a self-protection jammer. A synthetic aperture ground mapping radar enables the pilot to locate targets in poor visibility conditions. C and D models delivered since 1989 also have improved night attack abilities, consisting of the Hughes AN/AAR-50 thermal navigation pod, the Loral AN/AAS-38 NITE Hawk FLIR (forward looking infrared array) targeting pod, night vision goggles, and two full-color (formerly monochrome) multi-function display (MFDs) and a color moving map.
    • RF-18D: Two-seat reconnaissance version for the US Marine Corps in the mid-1980s. It was to carry a radar reconnaissance pod.
  • F-18L: This was a lighter land-based version of the F/A-18 Hornet. It was designed to be a single-seat air-superiority fighter and ground-attack aircraft. It was originally intended to be assembled by Northrop as the export version of the F/A-18 Hornet. The F-18L was lighter via removing carrier landing capability. Despite the advantages, customers preferred the standard Hornet, and the F-18L never entered mass production.
  • F/A-18 HARV: Single-seat High Alpha Research Vehicle for NASA. High angles of attack using thrust vectoring, modifications to the flight controls, and forebody strakes.
  • X-53 Active Aeroelastic Wing: A NASA F/A-18 that had been modified to demonstrate the Active Aeroelastic Wing technology, and was designated X-53 in December 2006.

Export variants[edit | edit source]

  • (A)F/A-18 Boomerang: "F/A-18A" was the original company designation, designations of "AF-18A" & "ATF-18A" have also been applied. Assembled in Australia (excluding the first two (A)F/A-18Bs) by Aero-Space Technologies of Australia (ASTA) from 1985 through to 1990, from kits produced by McDonnell Douglas with increasing local content in the later aircraft. Originally the most notable differences between an Australian (A)F/A-18A/B and a US F/A-18A/B were the lack of a catapult attachment, replacing the carrier tailhook with a lighter land arresting hook, and the automatic carrier landing system with an Instrument Landing System. Australian Hornets have been involved in several major upgrade programs. This program called HUG (Hornet Upgrade) has had a few evolutions over the years. The first was to give Australian Hornets F/A-18C model avionics. The second and current upgrade program (HUG 2.2) updates the fleet's avionics even further.
    • (A)F/A-18A: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Royal Australian Air Force.
    • (A)F/A-18B: Two-seat training version for the Royal Australian Air Force.
  • CF-18 Hornet: Canadian version of the F/A-18 Hornet.
    • CF-188A: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Canadian Forces.
    • CF-188B: Two-seat training and combat version for the Canadian Forces
    • CF-188C: Upgraded single-seat fighter/attack for the Canadian Forces
    • CF-188D: Upgraded two-sea training and combat version for the Canadian Forces.
  • EF-18 Hornet: Export variant for Spanish Air Force
    • EF-18A: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish Air Force designation is C.15. They were first upgraded to the EF-18A+ version in 1992 and from 2003 to 2004 to 2013 they were locally upgraded by EADS CASA and Indra Sistemas with better avionics, TPAC, data presentation, navigation, software and ECM suit. The AN/APG-65 radar was upgraded to the V3 version and the aircraft also received the AL-400 Radar Warning Receiver and the ASQ-600 emission detector and were certified to operate with Iris-T, Meteor, GBU-48 and Taurus . This version is locally known as EF-18M/C.15M.
    • EF-18B: Two-seat training version for the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish Air Force designation is CE.15. They were first upgraded to the EF-18B+/CE.15M version in 1992.
  • KAF-18 Hornet:
    • KAF-18A Hornet: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Kuwait Air Force.
    • KAF-18B Hornet: Two-seat training version for the Kuwait Air Force.
  • F-18C/D Hornet: The Finnish Air Force uses F/A-18C/D Hornets, with a Finland-specific mid-life update. The first seven Hornets (D models) were produced by McDonnell-Douglas. The 57 single-seat F-18C model units were assembled by Patria in Finland. These variants were delivered without air-to-ground capability so the letter A was dropped from the name. They were later upgraded to carry air-to-ground weaponry.
  • F-18C/D: Switzerland uses F-18C/D, later Swiss specific mid-life update. The Swiss F-18s had no ground attack capability originally, until hardware was retrofitted.

Users[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

Related Development[edit | edit source]

Comparable Aircraft[edit | edit source]