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The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet is an all-weather carrier-capable multirole fighter jet, designed to attack both ground and aerial targets. The F/A-18 was derived from the 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 fighter's primary missions are fighter escort, fleet air defense, suppression of enemy air defenses , interdiction, close air support and 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 F-14 Tomcat in the fighter and strike fighter role, and the A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair II in the attack role.

F/A-18 Hornet provided the baseline design for the 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 capability. The F/A-18E/F was originally proposed as an alternative to a completely new aircraft to replace existing dedicated attack aircraft such as the A-6. The larger variant was also directed to replace the aging F-14 Tomcat, thus serving a complementary role with Hornets in the U.S. Navy, and serving a wider range of roles including refueling tanker, and electronic jamming platform.



Development of the F/A-18 came as a result of the U.S. Navy's Naval Fighter-Attack, Experimental (VFAX) program to procure a multirole aircraft to replace the A-4 Skyhawk, the A-7 Corsair II, remaining F-4 Phantom IIs and to complement the F-14 Tomcat. Vice Admiral Kent Lee, then head of Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), was the lead advocate for the VFAX against strong opposition from many Navy officers, including Vice Admiral William D. Houser, deputy chief of naval operations for air warfare - the highest ranking naval aviator.

In August 1973, Congress mandated that the Navy pursue a lower-cost alternative to the F-14. Grumman proposed a stripped F-14 designated the F-14X, while McDonnell Douglas proposed a naval variant of the F-15, but both were nearly as expensive as the F-14. That summer, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger ordered the Navy to evaluate the competitors in the Air Force's Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program, the General Dynamics YF-16 and Northrop YF-17. The Air Force competition specified a day fighter with no strike capability. In May 1974, the House Armed Services Committee redirected $34 million from the VFAX to a new program, the Navy Air Combat Fighter (NACF), intended to make maximum use of the technology developed for the LWF program.

Redesigning the YF-17

Though the YF-16 won the LWF competition, the Navy was skeptical that an aircraft with one engine and narrow landing gear could be easily or economically adapted to carrier service, and refused to adopt an F-16 derivative. The Navy fought for and won permission to develop an aircraft based on the YF-17. Since the LWF did not share the design requirements of the VFAX, the Navy asked McDonnell Douglas and Northrop to design a new aircraft around the configuration and design principles of the YF-17. The new aircraft, designated the F-18, shared not a single essential dimension or primary structure with the YF-17. Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor announced on 1 March 1977 that the name of the aircraft would be "Hornet".

Northrop had enlisted the aid of McDonnell Douglas as a secondary contractor on the NACF proposal to capitalize on the latter's extensive experience in building carrier aircraft, including the highly successful F-4 Phantom II. On the F-18, the two companies agreed to split the parts manufacture evenly, with McDonnell Douglas completing the final assembly, representing ~20% of the work. McDonnell Douglas built the wings, stabilators, and forward fuselage; Northrop built the center and aft fuselage and vertical stabilizers. McDonnell Douglas was the prime contractor for the naval versions. Northrop would become the prime contractor and take over final assembly for the F-18L land-based version which Northrop hoped to sell on the export market.

The F-18, initially known as McDonnell Douglas Model 267, was drastically modified from the YF-17 while retaining the same basic configuration. For carrier operations, the airframe, undercarriage, and arrestor hook were strengthened, folding wings and catapult attachments were added, and the landing gear widened. To meet Navy range and reserves requirements, McDonnell increased fuel capacity by , with the enlargement of the dorsal spine and the addition of a 96 gallon fuel cell to each wing (the YF-17 had dry wings). Most visibly, a "snag" was added to the leading edge of the wings and stabilators to prevent a flutter discovered in the F-15 stabilator. The wings and stabilators were enlarged, the aft fuselage widened by , and the engines canted outward at the front. These changes added to the gross weight, bringing it to . The computer-assisted control system of the YF-17 was replaced with a wholly digital fly-by-wire system with quadruple-redundancy, the first to be installed in a production fighter.

Heads up display (HUD) in an F/A-18 Hornet

The original plan specified acquiring 780 total of three closely related models: the single seat F-18A fighter and A-18A attack aircraft, differing only in avionics, and the dual-seat TF-18A, which retained full mission capability of the F-18, except with a reduced fuel load. With redesign of the stores stations and improvements in avionics and multifunction displays, it became possible to combine the A-18A and F-18A into one aircraft. Starting in 1980, the aircraft began being referred to as the F/A-18A, and the designation was officially announced on 1 April 1984. The TF-18A was redesignated F/A-18B.

Northrop's F-18L

Northrop developed the F-18L as a potential export aircraft. Since it did not have to be strengthened for carrier service, it was expected to be lighter and better performing, and a strong competitor to the F-16 Fighting Falcon then being offered to American allies. The F-18L's maximum gross weight was (approximately 30%) lighter than the F/A-18A, due to lighter landing gear, removal of the wing folding mechanism, reduced part thickness in areas and lower fuel capacity. Though the aircraft retained a lightened arresting hook, the most obvious external difference was the removal of the "snags" on the leading edge of the wings and stabilators. It still retained 71% commonality with the F/A-18 by parts weight, and 90% of the high-value systems, including the avionics, radar, and ECM suite, though alternatives were offered. Unlike the F/A-18, the F-18L carried no fuel in its wings and lacked weapons stations on the intakes. It had three underwing pylons on each side instead.

The partnership between the McDonnell Douglas and Northrop soured over competition for foreign sales for the two models. Northrop felt that McDonnell Douglas would put the F/A-18 in direct competition with the F-18L. In October 1979, Northrop filed a series of lawsuits charging that McDonnell was using Northrop technology developed for the F-18L for foreign sales in violation of their agreement, and asked for a moratorium on foreign sales of the Hornet via McDonnell Douglas. The case was resolved in 1985 when McDonnell agreed to pay Northrop $50 million for complete rights to the design, without any admission of wrongdoing. By then Northrop had ceased work on the F-18L, and most export orders were captured by the F-16 or the F/A-18.

Into production

A US Navy F/A-18 in flight

During flight testing, the snag on the leading edge of the stabilators was filled in, and the gap between the Leading edge extensions (LEX) and the fuselage mostly filled in. The gap, called the boundary layer air discharge (BLAD) slots, controlled the vortices generated by the LEX and presented clean air to the vertical stabilizers at high angles of attack. However, they also generated a great deal of parasitic drag, worsening the problem of the F/A-18's inadequate range. McDonnell filled in 80% of the gap, leaving a small slot to bleed air from the engine intake. This may have contributed to early problems with fatigue cracks appearing on the vertical stabilizers due to extreme aerodynamic loads, resulting in a momentary grounding in 1984 until the stabilizers were strengthened. Starting in May 1988, a small vertical fence was added to the top of each LEX to broaden the vortices and direct them away from the vertical stabilizers. This also provided a minor increase in controllability as a side effect.

The first production F/A-18A flew on 12 April 1980. After a production run of 380 F/A-18As (including the nine assigned to flight systems development), manufacture shifted to the F/A-18C in September 1987.


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. This is because the LEX produce powerful vortices over the wings, creating turbulent airflow over the wings and thus delaying or eliminating the aerodynamic separation responsible for stall, allowing the Hornet's wings to generate lift several times the aircraft's weight, despite high angles of attack. The Hornet is therefore capable of extremely tight turns over a large range of speeds.

Canted vertical stabilizers are another distinguishing design element, and among the other design characteristics that enable the Hornet's excellent high angle-of-attack capability include oversized horizontal stabilators, oversized trailing edge flaps that operate as flaperons, large full-length leading edge slats, and flight control computer programming that multiplies the movement of each control surface at low speeds and moves the vertical rudders inboard instead of simply left and right. The Hornet's normally high angle-of-attack performance envelope was put to rigorous testing and enhanced in the NASA F-18 High Alpha Research Vehicle (HARV). NASA used the F-18 HARV to demonstrate flight handling characteristics at high angle-of-attack (alpha) of 65-70 degrees using thrust vectoring vanes. F/A-18 stabilators were also used as canards on NASA's F-15S/MTD.

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 heavier 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. An experienced maintenance crew can remove and replace an F/A-18 engine in only a couple of hours.

Exhaust nozzles of an RAAF F/A-18 at the Whenuapai Air Show in New Zealand in March 2009.

The General Electric F404-GE-400 or F404-GE-402 engines powering the Hornet were also innovative in that they were designed with operability, reliability, and maintainability first. The result is an engine that, while unexceptional on paper in terms of rated performance, demonstrates exceptional robustness under a variety of conditions and is resistant to stall and flameout. By contrast, the Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines that originally powered the F-14A were notoriously prone to compressor stall and flameout under certain flight conditions.

The engine air inlets of the Hornet, like that of the F-16, are "fixed", while those of the F-4, F-14, and F-15 have variable geometry or variable ramp engine air inlets. The variable geometry enables high-speed aircraft to keep the velocity of the air reaching the engine below supersonic. This is one speed limiting factor in the Hornet design. Instead, the Hornet uses bleed air vents on the inboard surface of the engine air intake ducts to slow and reduce the amount of air reaching the engine. While not as effective as variable geometry, the bleed air technique functions well enough to achieve near Mach 2 speeds, which is within the designed mission requirements. The less sophisticated design is also more robust.

Because it was designed as a light multirole aircraft to complement the specialized F-14 and A-6 airframes, it had a relatively low internal fuel fraction. That is, its internal fuel capacity is small relative to its takeoff weight, at around 23%, a fuel fraction of .23. Most aircraft of its class have a fuel fraction between .30 to .35. This situation was exacerbated by the addition of new avionics over its lifespan, further reducing the fuel fraction. This led to 330-gallon external tanks being a common sight on F/A-18s, with the centerline and inner wings stations (numbered 3, 5 and 7) being plumbed to transfer fuel.

Design evolution

In the 1990s, the US Navy faced the need to replace its aging A-6 Intruders, EA-6 Prowlers, A-7 Corsair IIs and F-14 Tomcats without proper replacements in development. To answer this deficiency, the Navy had the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet developed. 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. Hornets and Super Hornets will serve complementary roles in the US Navy carrier arsenal, until the deployment of the F-35C Lightning II, which will primarily replace F/A-18A-D Hornets.

Operational history

United States

Entry into service

McDonnell Douglas rolled out the first F/A-18A on 13 September 1978, in blue-on-white colors marked with "Navy" on the left and "Marines" on the right. Its first flight was on 18 November. In a break with tradition, the Navy pioneered the "principal site concept" with the F/A-18, where almost all testing was done at NAS Pax Rivermarker, instead of near the site of manufacture, and involving Navy test pilots instead of contractor pilots much earlier in the process.

In March 1979, Lt Cdr John Padgett became the first Navy pilot to fly the F/A-18. In all, nine F/A-18As and two F/A-18Bs were assigned to flight systems development.

Following trials and operational testing by VX-4 and VX-5, Hornets began to fill the Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS) VFA-125, VFA-106, and VMFAT-101, where pilots are introduced to the F/A-18. The Hornet entered operational service with Marine Corps squadron VMFA-314 at MCAS El Toromarker on 7 January 1983, and with Navy squadron VFA-113 in March 1983, replacing F-4s and A-7Es, respectively.

The initial fleet reports were complimentary, indicating that the Hornet was extraordinarily reliable, a major change from its predecessor, the F-4. Other squadrons that switched to F/A-18 are VFA-146 "Blue diamonds", and VFA-147 "Argonauts". In January 1985, the VFA-131 Wildcats and the VFA-132 Privateers moved from Naval Air Station Lemoore to Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida, and became the Atlantic Fleet’s first F/A-18 squadrons.

The US Navy's Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron switched to the F/A-18 Hornet in 1986, when it replaced the A-4 Skyhawk. The Blue Angels perform in F/A-18A and B models at air shows and other special events across the US and worldwide. Blue Angels pilots must have 1,350 hours and an aircraft carrier certification. The two-seat B-model is typically used to give rides to VIPs, but can also fill in for other aircraft in the squadron in a normal show if the need arises.

Into combat

The F/A-18 first saw combat action in April 1986, when VFA-131 Hornets from USS Coral Sea flew SEAD missions against Libyan air defenses during Operation Prairie Fire and an attack on Benghazimarker as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon.

During the first Persian Gulf War, two U.S. Navy F/A-18s were destroyed with the loss of their pilots. On 17 January 1991, the first day of the war, Lieutenant Commander Scott Speicher of VFA-81 was shot down and killed in the crash of his aircraft. The other F/A-18, piloted by Lieutenant Robert Dwyer (who was officially listed as killed in action, body not recovered), was lost over the North Persian Gulfmarker after a successful mission to Iraqmarker.

F/A-18 pilots were credited with two kills during the Gulf War, both MiG-21. On the first day of the war, U.S. Navy pilots Lieutenant Nick Mongilio and Lieutenant Commander (now Rear Admiral) Mark Fox were sent from the USS Saratogamarker in the Red Seamarker to bomb an airfield in southwestern Iraq. While en route, they were warned by an E-2C of approaching MiG-21 aircraft. The Hornets shot down two MiGs and resumed their bombing run, each carrying four 2,000 lb bombs, before returning to Saratoga. Mongilio and Fox become the first pilots to register air-to-air kills while still completing their original air-to-ground mission. The Hornet's survivability was demonstrated when a Hornet took hits in both engines and flew back to base. It was repaired and flying within a few days. Overall during the Gulf War, F/A-18s flew 4,551 sorties with ten Hornets damaged including the two losses previously mentioned.

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. It broke records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability, and maintainability.

F/A-18C Hornet in 30th anniversary color scheme.

Both U.S. Navy F/A-18A/C models and Marine F/A-18A/C/D models were used continuously in Operation Southern Watch and over Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. U.S. Navy Hornets flew during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 from carriers operating in the North Arabian Sea. Both the F/A-18A/C and newer F/A-18E/F variants were used during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, operating from aircraft carriers. Later in the conflict USMC A+, C, and primarily D models operated from bases within Iraq.

An F/A-18C was accidentally downed in a friendly fire incident by a Patriot missile early in the conflict, and two others collided over Iraq in May 2005. In January 2007, two Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets collided in mid-air and crashed in the Persian Gulf.

Non-US service

Though Navy aircraft have not historically sold well on the export market, the F/A-18 has been purchased and is in operation with a number of foreign air services. Export Hornets are typically similar to U.S. models of a similar manufacture date. Since none of the customers operate aircraft carriers, all export models have been sold without the automatic carrier landing system, and Royal Australian Air Force further removed the catapult attachment on the nose gear. Except for Canada, all export customers purchased their Hornets through the U.S. Navy, via the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program, where the Navy acts as the purchasing manager but incurs no financial gain or loss. Canada, the largest Hornet operator outside of the U.S., ordered its aircraft directly from the manufacturer.


The Royal Australian Air Force purchased 57 F/A-18A fighters and 18 F/A-18B two-seat trainers. The first F/A-18 was delivered to the RAAF on 29 October 1984. The fleet is expected to be retired by 2015, replaced by the F-35 Lightning II.

Three options were considered for the replacement of the RAAF's Mirage IIIs, options were the F-15A Eagle, F-16 Falcon, and the then new F/A-18 Hornet. The F-15 was discounted because the version offered did not have a ground-attack capability. The F-16 was deemed unsuitable largely on the basis of its having only one engine. Consequently, Australia signed a contract in October 1981. The first two aircraft were produced in the US, with the remainder being assembled in Australia at Government Aircraft Factories. Deliveries took place between February 1985 and May 1990. Original differences between the Australian and US Navy's standard F/A-18 were the removal of nose wheel tie bar for catapult launch (later re-fitted with a dummy version to remove nose wheel shimmy), addition of a high frequency radio, an Australian fatigue data analysis system, an improved video and voice recorder, and the use of ILS/VOR (Instrument Landing System/Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range) instead of the carrier landing system.

In 2001, Australia deployed four aircraft to Diego Garciamarker, in an air defense role, during coalition operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2003, 75 Squadron deployed 14 F/A-18s to Qatar as part of Operation Falconer and these aircraft saw action during the invasion of Iraq. A total of 71 Hornets were in Australian service as of 2006, with four lost to crashes.


Canada was the first export customer for the Hornet, replacing the CF-104 Starfighter (air reconnaissance & strike), the CF-101 Voodoo (air interception) and the CF-116 Freedom Fighter (ground attack). The Canadian Forces Air Command ordered 98 A-models (Canadian designation CF-188A/CF-18A) and 40 B models (designation CF-188B/CF-18B).

In 1991, Canada committed 26 CF-18s to the Gulf War, based in Qatar. In June 1999, with 18 CF-18s were deployed to Aviano AB, Italy, and they participated in both the air-to-ground and air-to-air roles in the former Yugoslavia.

The fighters are undergoing an avionics and structural upgrade program to extend service to 2020, upgrading F-18A and F-18B to F/A-18C and D standard. A total of 80 CF-18s, consisting of 62 single-seat and 18 dual-seat models were selected from the fleet for the upgrade program. As of 2003, Canada has 123 in service with 15 losses.


The Finnish Air Force (Suomen Ilmavoimat) ordered 64 F-18C/Ds. Delivery started on 7 June 1995. The Hornet replaced the MiG-21bis and Saab 35 Draken in Finnish service. One fighter was destroyed in a mid-air collision in 2001. Another damaged F-18C has been rebuilt into a F-18D. In order to do so, a forward section of a Canadian CF-18B was purchased and incorporated into the jet.

The Finnish F-18C includes the ASPJ (Airborne-Self-Protection-Jammer) jamming pod ALQ-165 that was canceled on original US Navy orders. The US Navy later included the ALQ-165 on their Super Hornet (F-18E/F) procurement. The Finnish Hornets were initially to be used only for air defense, hence the designation F-18.

Finland is upgrading its fleet of F-18s with new avionics, including helmet mounted sights (HMS), new cockpit displays, sensors and standard NATOmarker data link. A number of the 63 Hornets remaining are going to be fitted to carry air-to-ground ordnance such as the AGM-154C JSOW, in effect returning to the original F/A-18 multi-role configuration. The upgrade includes also the procurement and integration of new AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. This Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) is estimated to cost between €1-1.6 billion and work is scheduled to be finished by 2015. After the upgrades the planes are to remain in active service until 2020–2025.


The Kuwait Air Force (Al Quwwat Aj Jawwaiya Al Kuwaitiya) has 39 F/A-18C and F/A-18D Hornets as of 2008. These aircraft were pre-ordered before the Iraqi invasion of August 1990. Delivery of the fighters started on 8 October 1991. The F/A-18C/Ds replaced A-4KU Skyhawk.


The Royal Malaysian Air Force (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia) has eight F/A-18Ds. The air force split their order between the F/A-18 and the Mikoyan MiG-29.


The Spanish Air Force (Ejército del Aire) ordered 60 EF-18A model and 12 EF-18B model Hornets (the "E" standing for "España", Spain), named respectively as C.15 and CE.15 by Spanish AF. Delivery of the Spanish version started on 22 November 1985. These fighters were upgraded to F-18A+/B+ standard, close to F/A-18C/D (plus version includes later mission and armament computers, databuses, data-storage set, new wiring, pylon modifications and software, new capabilities as AN/AAS-38B NITE Hawk targeting FLIR pods).

In 1995 Spain obtained 24 ex-USN F/A-18A Hornets, with six more on option. These were delivered from December 1995 until December 1999. Prior to delivery, they were modified to EF-18A+ standard. This was the first sale of USN surplus Hornets.

Spanish Hornets operate as an all-weather interceptor 60% of the time and as an all-weather day/night attack aircraft for the remainder. In case of war, each of the front-line squadrons would take a primary role: 121 is tasked with tactical air support and maritime operations; 151 and 122 are assigned to all-weather interception and air combat roles; and 152 is assigned the SEAD mission. Air refueling is provided by KC-130Hs and Boeing 707TTs. Pilot conversion to EF-18 is centralized in 153 Squadron (Ala 15). Squadron 462's role is air defense of the Canary Islandsmarker, being responsible for fighter and attack missions from Gando AB.

Spanish Air Force EF-18 Hornets have flown Ground Attack, SEAD, combat air patrol (CAP) combat missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, under NATO command, in Aviano detachment (Italy). They shared the base with Canadian and USMC F/A-18s. Eight of the Spanish Hornets have been lost in accidents as of 2009.

Eight EF-18s, based at Aviano AB, participated in bombing raids against Yugoslavia in Operation Allied Force in 1999. They also performed air-to-air combat air patrol missions, close air support air-to-ground missions, photo reconnaissance missions, forward air controller-airborne missions, and tactical air controller-airborne missions over Bosnia.


Switzerlandmarker's Luftwaffe purchased 26 C models and eight D models. One D model was lost in a crash. Delivery of the aircraft started on 25 January 1996.

In late 2007 Switzerland requested to be included in F/A-18C/D Upgrade 25 Program, in order to extend the useful life of its F/A-18C/Ds. The program includes significant upgrades to the avionics and mission computer, 20 ATFLIR surveillance and targeting pods, and 44 sets of AN/ALR-67v3 ECM equipment. In October 2008 the Swiss Hornet fleet reached the 50,000 flight hour milestone.

Potential operators

The F/A-18C and F/A-18D were considered by the Frenchmarker Marine Nationale during the 1980s for deployment on their aircraft carriers Clemenceau and Foch and again in the 1990s for the later nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle, in the event that the Dassault Rafale M was not brought into service when originally planned.

Austriamarker, Chilemarker, Czech Republicmarker, Hungarymarker, Philippinesmarker, Polandmarker, and Singaporemarker evaluated the Hornet but did not purchase it. Thailandmarker ordered four C and four D model Hornets but the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s resulted in the order being canceled. The U.S. DoD then purchased the in-production Hornets for the Marine Corps.

The F/A-18A and F-18L land-based version competed for a fighter contract from Greecemarker in the 1980s. The Greek government chose F-16 and Mirage 2000 instead.


An F/A-18B Hornet assigned to the U.S.
Naval Test Pilot School.


The F/A-18A is the single-seat variant and the F/A-18B is the two seat variant. The space for the two seat cockpit is 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.

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-18C is the single-seat variant and the F/A-18D is the two seat variant. The D-model can be configured for training or as an all-weather strike craft. The "missionized" D-model's rear seat is configured for a Weapons and Sensors 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 FAC(A) (Forward Air Controller (Airborne)) roles.

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 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.

In addition, 60 D model Hornets are configured as the night attack F/A-18D (RC) with ability for reconnaissance. These could be outfitted with the ATARS electro-optical sensor package that includes a sensor pod and equipment mounted in the place of the M61 cannon.

Beginning in 1992, the F404-GE-402 enhanced performance engine, providing approximately 10% more maximum static thrust became the standard Hornet engine. Since 1993, the AAS-38A NITE Hawk added a designator/ranger laser, allowing it to self-mark targets. The later AAS-38B added the ability to strike targets designated by lasers from other aircraft.

Production of the F/A-18C ended in 1999. In 2000, the last F/A-18D was delivered to the U.S. Marine Corps.

E/F Super Hornet

The single seat F/A-18E and two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets carry over the name and design concept of the original F/A-18, but have been extensively redesigned. The Super Hornet has a new, 25% larger airframe, larger rectangular air intakes, more powerful GE F414 engines based on F/A-18's F404, and upgraded avionics suite. The aircraft is currently in production and will eventually equip 22 squadrons. The EA-18G Growler is an electronic warfare version of the two-seat F/A-18F, which entered production in 2007. The Growler will replace the Navy's EA-6B Prowler.

Other US variants

This was a proposed reconnaissance version of the F/A-18A. It included a sensor package that replaced the 20 mm cannon. The first of two prototypes flew in August 1984, however the variant was not produced.

Proposed two-seat reconnaissance version for the US Marine Corps in the mid-1980s. It was to carry a radar reconnaissance pod. The system was canceled after it was unfunded in 1988. This capability was later realized on the F/A-18D(RC).

Two-seat training version of the F/A-18A fighter, later redesignated F/A-18B.

F-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 has been modified to demonstrate the Active Aeroelastic Wing technology, and was designated X-53 in December 2006.

Export variants

These designations are not part of 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system.

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 due to the removal of carrier landing capability. Despite the advantages, customers preferred the "ordinary" Hornet, and the F-18L never went into production.

  • (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.
"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, replacement of the carrier tailhook for a lighter "land" arresting hook, and the replacement of the automatic carrier landing system with an Instrument Landing System. Australian Hornets have been involved in a number of 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.

CF-18 Hornet
  • CF-18A : Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Canadian Forces. The Canadian Forces' official designation is CF-188A Hornet.
  • CF-18B : Two-seat training and combat version for the Canadian Forces. The Canadian Forces' official designation is CF-188B Hornet.

EF-18 Hornet
  • EF-18A: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish Air Force designation is C.15.
  • EF-18B: Two-seat training version for the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish Air Force designation is CE.15.

KAF-18 Hornet
  • KAF-18C: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Kuwait Air Force.
  • KAF-18D: 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 7 Hornets (D-models) were produced by McDonnell Douglas. The 57 single-seat F-18C model units were assembled by Patria in Finland.

F-18C/D Hornet
  • Switzerland uses F-18C/D, later Swiss specific mid-life update. The Swiss F-18s were originally without ground attack capability until hardware was retrofitted.


Operators of the F/A-18 are shown in blue.

  • Kuwait Air Force has 28 F/A-18Cs and 7 F/A-18Ds in service as of November 2008.
    • 9 Fighter and Attack Squadron
    • 25 Fighter and Attack Squadron
  • Spanish Air Force
    • Ala de Caza 15 (15th Fighter Wing) Zaragoza AB, with 30 A+ and six B+ shared between Squadrons 151, 152 and 153
    • Ala de Caza 12, Torrejon AB (Squadron 121 and 122) with 30 A+ and six B+.
    • Ala 46, Gando AB (Canary islands), with Squadron 462 operating 22 ex-US Navy F/A-18s.
  • Swiss Air Force has 26 F/A-18Cs and 7 F/A-18Ds in use as of November 2008.
    • Fliegerstaffel 11
    • Fliegerstaffel 17
    • Fliegerstaffel 18


On 13 June 2008, an F/A-18C Hornet collided with an F-5F Tiger II over northern Nevadamarker's high desert, killing its pilot. Both pilots of the F-5 were injured, but managed to parachute to safety.

On 8 December 2008, an F/A-18D crashed in a populated areamarker of San Diegomarker, while on approach to Marine Corps Air Station Miramarmarker, killing four people on the ground. The pilot ejected safely; there was no WSO in the aircraft.

Specifications (F/A-18C/D)

Refueling an F/A-18 Hornet

Notable appearances in Media

Hornets make frequent appearances in action movies and military novels. The Hornet was featured in the film Independence Day. The Hornet has a major role in Jane's US Navy Fighters (1994), Jane's Fighters Anthology (1997) and Jane's F/A-18 Simulator computer simulators.

See also


  1. "F/A-18E/F Super Hornet ...Leading Naval Aviation into the 21st Century." U.S. Navy, 28 February 2006. Retrieved: 4 July 2008.
  2. Kelly, Orr. Hornet: the Inside Story of the F/A-18. Novato, California: Presido Press, 1990. ISBN 0-89141-344-8.
  3. Jenkins 2000, pp. 19–21.
  4. "F/A-18 Hornet and F/A-18 Super Hornet." U.S. Navy. Retrieved: 4 July 2008.
  5. Jenkins 2000, pp. 22–26.
  6. Northrop F-18L. Joe Baugher's site,
  7. Jenkins 2000, pp. 26–29.
  8. Jenkins 2000, p. 35.
  9. "F-18 High Alpha Research Vehicle (HARV) fact sheet." NASA/Dryden Flight Research Center. Retrieved: 1 November 2009.
  10. "F/A-18 Hornet." Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved: 4 July 2008.
  11. "F/A-18 Hornet Milestones." Boeing. Retrieved: 17 March 2007.
  12. Jenkins 2000, p. 29.
  13. Jenkins 2000.
  14. "Officials Identify Gulf War Pilot’s Remains." US Navy, 2 August 2009. Retrieved: 1 November 2009.
  15. Miller, David. The Illustrated Directory of Modern Weapons. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 0-7603-1346-6.
  16. Jenkins 2000, p. 72.
  17. "2 Navy Fighter Jets Crash In Persian Gulf." CBS. 7 January 2008. Retrieved: 1 November 2009.
  18. Crick, Darren. "ADF Aircraft Serial Numbers RAAF A21 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornet." Retrieved: 31 December 2006.
  19. Nelson, Brendan. "Joint Strike Fighter." Defence Ministers & Parliamentary secretary Media Release, 1 February 2007. Retrieved: 4 July 2008.
  20. Nelson, Brendan. "$6 Billion to maintain Australia's regional air superiority." Defence Ministers & Parliamentary secretary Media Release, 3 June 2007. Retrieved: 4 April 2008.
  21. Tewes, Alex. "Australia's F/A-18 Hornet Aircraft: Implications of Use in Iraq." Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library, 18 March 2003. Retrieved: 1 November 2009.
  22. Holmes 2006, p. 38.
  23. Senior, Tim. "F/A-18 Hornet, The AirForces Monthly book." AirForces Monthly, 2003. ISBN 0-946219-69-9.
  24. "Patria unveils twin-seat F-18 built out of single-seat F-18 Hornet." Patria, 21 September 2009. Retrieved: 24 September 2009.
  25. Helsingin Sanomat
  26. Helsingin Sanomat
  27. Kuwait Air Force,
  28. "Boeing Delivers Malaysian Hornets on Schedule." Boeing, 9 September 1997. Retrieved: 4 July 2008.
  29. Malaysia
  30. Jenkins 2000, p. 93.
  31. Swiss Hornets reach 50,000 flight hours milestone,
  32. Tillman Barrett. MiG Master: Story of the F-8 Crusader (second edition). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1990. ISBN 0-87021-585-X.
  33. Donald 2001, p. 122.
  34. "Philippine Pilots Complete F/A-18 HORNET Flight Evaluation", McDonnell Douglas, 11 December 1996.
  35. "Greek fighter marathon nears end". Flight International, 31 July 1982.
  36. Jenkins 2000, pp. 64–66.
  37. fa18hornet wiki
  38. Jenkins 2000, pp. 66–70.
  39. Donald, David. "Boeing F/A-18 Hornet". Warplanes of the Fleet. AIRtime Publishing Inc, 2004. ISBN 1-880588-81-1.
  40. Jenkins 2000, pp. 61–62, 156.
  41. Jenkins 2000, pp. 49–52.
  42. Jenkins 2000, pp. 100–101.
  43. Karivalo, Perttu. Tomcat vs. Hornet: An Air Forces Monthly Special, p. 68. Key Publishing Ltd, 2003.
  44. Nicholls, Mark. Tomcat vs. Hornet: An Air Forces Monthly Special, p. 78. Key Publishing Ltd, 2003.
  45. "Directory: World Air Forces". Flight International, 11-17 November 2008.
  46. "Kuwait Air Force Overview. Aircraft Order of Battle." Scramble Magazine. Retrieved: 31 December 2008.
  47. "Malaysian Air Force Overview. Aircraft Order of Battle." Scramble Magazine. Retrieved: 31 December 2008.
  48. Yañez and Rodriguez 2008, p. 23.
  49. "Schweizer Luftwaffe. Aircraft Order of Battle." Scramble Magazine. Retrieved: 31 December 2008.
  50. Associated Press. "Navy: Pilot killed in jet collision over Nevada." Dallas News, 13 June 2008.
  51. "Man returns to site where jet crash killed his family". Sign On San Diego, 10 December 2008. Retrieved: 11 December 2008.
  52. "Four dead in San Diego jet crash." BBC, 10 December 2008. Retrieved: 10 December 2008.

  • Baugher, Joseph. "Boeing F/A-18C Hornet". Air to Air, 11 April 2000.
  • Donald, David. Carrier Aviation Air Power Directory. London: AIRtime Publishing Inc, 2001. ISBN 1-880588-43-9.
  • Drendel, Lou. F/A-18 Hornet in action (Aircraft Number 136). Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 1993. ISBN 0-89747-300-0.
  • Elward, Brad. Boeing F/A-18 Hornet (WarbirdTech, Vol. 31). Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 1-58007-041-8.
  • Gunston, Bill. F/A-18 Hornet (Modern Combat Aircraft 22). St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1985. ISBN 0-710-1485-X.
  • Holmes, Tony. "RAAF Hornets at War". Australian Aviation. Canberra: Phantom Media, January/February 2006/No. 224. ISSN 08130876.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. F/A-18 Hornet: A Navy Success Story. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. ISBN 0-07-134696-1.
  • Miller, Jay. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (Aerofax Minigraph 25). Arlington, Texas: Aerofax Inc., 1988. ISBN 0-942548-39-6.
  • Peacock, Lindsay. F/A-18 Hornet (Osprey Combat Aircraft Series). London: Osprey Publishing, 1986. ISBN 0-85045-707-6.
  • Spick, Mike. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (Classic Warplanes). London, Salamander Books, 1991. ISBN 0-8317-1412-3.
  • Vann, Frank. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (How They Work: Jet Fighter). New York: Exeter Books, 1988. ISBN 07917-0226-X.
  • Yañez, Roberto and Alex Rodriguez. "Spanish Hornets: Providing a Potent Sting". Air International, Volume 75, Number 2, August 2008, pp. 22–25.

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