F/A-18 Hornet

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Missing image
April 2003: Two United States Navy F/A-18 Hornets prepare to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman. The nearest aircraft has folded its wingtips.

The F/A-18 Hornet is a modern all-weather carrier strike fighter. It is the first tactical aircraft designed to fill the roles of fighter aircraft and attack aircraft. Designed in the 1970s, it is in service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, as well as several other nations. It fills the roles of fighter escort, fleet air defense, suppression of enemy air defenses(SEAD), interdiction, close and deep air support, reconnaissance, and forward air control. Its versatility and reliability have proven it to be a valuable carrier asset, and its only drawback is its relative lack of range.



The F/A-18 design began as the Northrop YF-17, one of two competing designs for the USAF's Lightweight Fighter Program, on which the USN was a minor partner. For the Navy version, Northrop teamed with McDonnell Douglas to capitalize on the latter's extensive experience in building carrier aircraft, including the highly successful F-4. When the two services ended up choosing different aircraft, McDonnell Douglas became the primary contractor for the Navy design(McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997).

The Navy's design concept originated from Vice Admiral Kent Lee. Drawing on his experience as a navy aviator in WWII, where fighters hastily converted for bombing with jury-rigged bomb racks proved to be versatile assets, capable of defending themselves once they had dropped their bombs. He and his supporters pushed for the VFAX concept, a cheap, lightweight strike fighter, as a counterpart to the expensive and complex F-14 Tomcat then under development.

F/A-18 A/B Hornets were first test-flown in 1978, and entered service in 1983, replacing the F-4 Phantom II and the A-7 Corsair II. In 1986, Hornets from the USS Coral Sea(CV43) flew SEAD missions against Libyan air defenses during the attack on Benghazi.

After a production run of 371 F/A-18As, manufacture shifted to the F/A-18C in September 1987. As the A-6 Intruder was retired in the 1990s, its role was filled by the F-A/18. The F/A-18 demonstrated its versatility and reliability during Operation Desert Storm, shooting down enemy fighters and subsequently bombing enemy targets with the same aircraft on the same mission, and breaking all records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability, and maintainability. The aircraft's survivability was proven by Hornets taking direct hits from surface-to-air missiles, recovering successfully, being repaired quickly, and flying again the next day.

In the 1990s the US Navy faced the retirement of its F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder, EA-6 Prowler aircraft without a proper replacement on the drawing board. To answer this deficiency, the Navy developed the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Despite its designation, it is not an upgrade of the F/A-18 Hornet, but rather, a new, larger airframe utilizing the design concepts of the Hornet. Until the deployment of the F-35B, Hornets and Super Hornets will serve complementary roles in the US Navy carrier arsenal.

Design Characteristics

The F/A-18 is a twin engine, mid-wing, multi-mission tactical aircraft. It is superbly maneuverable, owing to its good thrust to weight ratio, digital fly-by-wire control system, and leading edge extensions(LEX). The LEX allow the Hornet to remain controllable at high angles of attack.

The Hornet was among the first aircraft to heavily utilize multi-function displays, which at the switch of a button allow the pilot to perform either fighter or attack roles or both. This "force multiplier" capability gives the operational commander more flexibility in employing tactical aircraft in a rapidly changing battle scenario. It was the first Navy aircraft to incorporate a digital multiplex avionics bus, enabling easy upgrades.

The Hornet is also notable for having been designed with maintenance in mind, and as a result has required far less downtime than its counterparts, the F-14 Tomcat and the A-6 Intruder. Its mean time between failure is three times greater than any other Navy strike aircraft, and requires half the maintenance time. For example, whereas replacing the engine on the A-4 Skyhawk required removing the aircraft's tail, the engine on the Hornet is attached at only three points and can be directly removed without excessive disassembly.

The General Electric F404-GE-402 engines powering the Hornet were also innovative that they were designed with operability, reliability, and maintainability first. The result is an engine that is far more stall-resistant than its predecessors.

The F/A-18A and C are single-seat aircraft. The F/A-18B and D have two seats, space for the rear cockpit being provided by a relocation of avionic equipment and a 6% reduction in internal fuel; two-seat Hornets are otherwise fully combat-capable. The B model is used primarily for training, while the D model is configured as an all-weather strike craft. Whereas the B model has both seats configured as pilot's stations, the D model's rear seat is configured for a flight officer to assist in operating the weapons systems. The D model is primarily operated by the U.S. Marine Corps in the night attack and FFAC(Fast Forward Air Controller) roles.

F/A-18 A+/C/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 missile. 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 include an improved night attack capability, 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 (previously monochrome) MFDs and a color moving map.

Beginning in 1991, Hornets were upgraded to the F404-GE-402 engine, providing a 20% increase in thrust. In 1992, the Hughes APG/65 radar was replaced with the APG/73, a faster and more capable radar. The A model Hornets upgraded to the APG/73 are designated A+. Since 1993, the Nite Hawk also has a designator/ranger laser, allowing it to self-mark targets.

In addition, 48 D model Hornets are configured for reconnaissance as the F/A-18D (RC) version, substituting the gun with a sensor package.

Production of the F/A-18C ended in 1999.

F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet

Main article: F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet

The newest models, the single seat E and two-seat F Super Hornet, carry over the name and design concept of the original F/A-18, but are extensively redesigned, with a new, 30% larger airframe. The Super Hornet has a stretched fuselage and larger wings, leading-edge extensions, and horizontal tails; the GE F414 engines are a more powerful development of the F/A-18's F404; the avionics suite is upgraded but broadly similar. The E/F began when McDonnell Douglas proposed an enlarged Hornet to replace the cancelled A-12 project. (The ambitious and very expensive A-12 design was to have been a stealthy replacement for the US Navy A-6 and US Air Force attack aircraft.) Congress was unwilling to fund a "new" aircraft, however the proposed F/A-18E could be represented as a mere upgrade, and a $3.8 billion development contract was signed in December 1992. The first of the new aircraft was rolled out at McDonnell Douglas September 17, 1995, and the Super Hornet is currently in production, with two Super Hornet squadrons in the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) airwing: VFA 14 (F/A-18E) and VFA 41 (F/A-18F).

Specifications (F/A-18 Hornet)

Specifications are for C/D model unless otherwise specified.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1(A/C) 2(B/D)
  • Unit Cost: $39.5 Million
  • Contractor:Prime: McDonnell Douglas; Major Subcontractor: Northrop
  • First flight:
    • November 1978
    • November 1995 (E/F models)
  • Operational:
    • October 1983 (A/B models)
    • September 1987 (C/D models)
    • September 2001 (E/F models)


  • Length: 56 ft 4 in (17.1 m)
  • Wingspan: 40 ft (12.3 m)
  • Height: 15 ft 4 in (4.7 m)
  • Wing area: 300 ft² (27.87 m²)


  • Empty: 12,500 lb (5,700 kg)
  • Loaded: lb ( kg)
  • Maximum Takeoff: 29,750 lb (13,400 kg)


  • Engine: 1x General Electric F404-GE-402 enhance performance turbofans
  • Thrust: 17,700 lbf per engine (79 kN) thrust


  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.8+
  • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)
  • Thrust/weight: >1


Missing image
F/A-18 attached to catapult on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln


Apart from the US Navy, US Marine Corps and NASA (which received 1048 aircraft), the F/A-18 is used by the armed forces of:

Missing image
An Australian F/A-18 painted in a special 20th Anniversary scheme at the 2005 Australian Airshow

The F/A-18E/F was a candidate aircraft for the Royal Navy Future Carriers (CVF), assuming CTOL ships were built. Eventually the UK selected CTOL ships, but configured for STOVL operations with the F-35B.

F/A-18 Hornets in fiction

F/A-18 Hornets and F/A-18F Super Hornet can be seen in such action films as Independence Day, The Rock, Clear and Present Danger, and Behind Enemy Lines.

External links

Related content

Related development: YF-17 Cobra - F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Comparable aircraft: MiG-29 Fulcrum

Designation series: F-15 - F-16 - YF-17 - F/A-18 - F-20 - F-21 - F/A-22


See also:



Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

de:Boeing F/A-18

fr:McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet nl:F/A-18 Hornet ja:F/A-18 (戦闘攻撃機) pl:F/A-18 Hornet pt:F/A-18 Hornet sl:McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet zh:F/A-18黃蜂式戰鬥攻擊機


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