F/A-18 Hornet

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F/A-18 Hornet
Primary function Multi-role attack and fighter aircraft
Primary contractor Boeing (formerly McDonnell Douglas)
Unit cost $57 million (E,F models)
Models A,C,D
B (training)
E, F (Super Hornet)
Date entered service October, 1983
Countries in use United States
Wingspan 44.9 feet
Length 60.3 feet
Height 16 feet
Weight 66,000 pounds (maximum on take-off)
Ceiling 50,000+ feet
Speed Mach 1.8+
Range 1,275 nautical miles
Propulsion Two F414-GE-400 turbofan engines
Thrust 22,000 pounds (9,977 kg) static thrust per engine
Crew A,C, E models: One
B,D,F models: Two
Armament One M61A1/A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon
Payload AIM 9 Sidewinder
AIM-9X (projected)
AIM 7 Sparrow
SLAM, SLAM-ER (projected)
Maverick missiles
Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW)
Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)
Data Link Pod
Paveway Laser Guided Bomb
various general purpose bombs, mines and rockets.

The F/A-18 Hornet is the US Navy's most versatile carrier-based aircraft. The official F/A designation stands for fighter/attack, though in practice the aircraft is often simply called F-18 Hornet or Super Hornet. It is the nation's first all-weather strike-fighter.[1] Other versions have been modified for air-to-air refueling, electronic countermeasures, and anti-submarine warfare. It is now the Navy's primary fighter, after the retirement of the F-14 Tomcat, and the current variants are the one-seater F/A-18E and the two-seater F/A18-F.


In the 1970s, the Navy had an increasing need for a supersonic, lighter fighter that was more maneuverable than the F-14 and the old F-4s. There was also a need for an attack aircraft which could replace the aging, slow A-7. Both of these replacements had to be cheap, with military funds fairly low. In 1973, the contract was announced. By 1975, the contract had been awarded to McDonnell Douglas. The first production aircraft was rolled out in 1980.


An F/A-18 launches in afterburner.

The first F/A-18 Hornet went into service with the Marine Corps in 1983 and with the Navy the same year. In 1986, the Blue Angels replaced the A-4 Skyhawk with the F-18. The Hornet saw its first combat on its first carrier deployment, in 1986. Hornets flying from the USS Coral Sea provided fighter cover for ships and planes off the coast of Libya, and during Operation El Dorado Canyon, F/A-18s supported the US Navy strikes by attacking Libyan radars.[2]

Hornets saw extensive use in the Gulf War, being mostly used as ground attack aircraft. On one such mission, however, two Hornet pilots from the USS Saratoga shot down two MiG-21s, scoring the first (and so far, only) air-to-air victories for the jet. After downing the MiGs, the two pilots completed their attack mission, dropping their bombs on an Iraqi airfield.[3]

On the early morning of January 17, 1991, another Hornet from the Saratoga became the first Allied loss of the war when it was shot down while attacking an airfield. The pilot, Lt. Commander Michael Speicher, went down with his plane, the first fatality of the Gulf War.[4] The cause was initially thought to have been anti-aircraft fire, but more recent sources suggest that the plane was downed by an Iraqi MiG-25, which would make this the only air-to-air victory of the Iraqi air force during the war and the first time since the Vietnam War that America had lost an airplane in aerial combat.[5][6]

F/A-18s also saw service over the former republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and in Operation Desert Fox over Iraq in 1998.[7] Early in Operation Iraqi Freedom, one Hornet was lost in a friendly fire incident involving a Patriot missile battery.[8] Two others, both Super Hornets, were lost in a mid-air collision over the Persian Gulf in January 2008.[9]

Currently, F/A-18 Hornets are operating in 37 tactical squadrons and from 10 aircraft carriers.

Tactical Squadrons

VFA-122 The Flying Eagles

F/A-18 aircraft are mostly designated VFA which equals strike fighter squadron.[10] In addition, the VFA number is pronounced per digit. For example, VFA-122 is pronounced VFA One Two Two.

  • Blue Angels
  • VFA-15 Valions
  • VFA-22 Fighting Redcocks
  • VFA-25 Fist of the Fleet
  • VFA-27 Royal Maces
  • VFA-37 Bulls
  • VFA-81 Sunliners
  • VFA-82 Marauders
  • VFA-83 Rampagers
  • VFA-86 Sidewinders
  • VFA-87 Golden Warriors
  • VFA-94 Mighty Shrikes
  • VFA-97 Warhawks
  • VFA-105 Gunslingers
  • VFA-106 Gladiators
  • VFA-113 Stingers
  • VFA-115 Eagles
  • VFA-122 Flying Eagles
  • VFA-131 Wildcats
  • VFA-132 Privateers
  • VFA-136 Knighthawks
  • VFA-137 Kestrels
  • VFA-146 Blue Diamonds
  • VFA-147 Argonauts
  • VFA-151 Fighting Vigilantes
  • VFA-192 "World Famous" Golden Dragons
  • VFA-195 Dambusters
  • VFA-203 Blue Dolphins
  • VFA-204 River Rattlers
  • VFC-12 Fighting Omars

Foreign Users

Besides the US Navy and the USMC, the Hornet is in the service of a number of foreign air forces.[11]


Flag of Canada.svg

Canada was the first export customer for the Hornet. Over 100 planes were ordered, and first delivery was in 1982. Canadian F-18s flew operational missions in the Gulf War and over Bosnia during Operation Deliberate Force.


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Australia selected the Hornet to replace its Mirages in 1981, and first acquired the new plane in 1985. 75 were delivered in total, including 18 two-seat models.


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Spain ordered 72 Hornets, and the first was delivered in 1986. Thirty more ex-Navy machines were acquired in 1996. Spanish Hornets saw action in operations over Bosnia and Kosovo.


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Kuwait ordered Hornets before the Gulf War to replace its aging Skyhawks and Mirages, but delivery was delayed due to the Iraqi occupation. The first ones arrived in early 1992, and Kuwait eventually bought 40 of them, which outfit one air defense and one attack squadron.


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With its air force made up of older Swedish and Russian fighters, Finland sought a replacement. After an exhaustive evaluation, Finland settled on the Hornet, and first delivery was in 1995. Finland currently has over sixty Hornets, all serving in the air defense role.


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Following a national referendum, Switzerland ordered the Hornet in mid-1993. Only 34 machines were ordered, but the procurement was drawn out, and final delivery wasn't until 1999.


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In the early 90s, the Malaysian air force consisted mainly of outdated F-5s. Malaysia adopted an interesting two-tier approach, acquiring the Hornet for the attack role and its Cold War opposite, the MiG-29, for air defense. Eight Hornets were delivered in total, in 1997. Further orders were planned, but the Asian economic crisis of 1997 intervened. Malaysia is considered a potential customer for the Super Hornet.




The F/A-18A is the single seat version; the F/A-18B is the two seat version. The F/A-18B is primarily used as a training aircraft.


The F/A-18C is single seat and the F/A-18D is double seat. Both versions have improved radar, avionics, and the capability to carry AGM-65 Maverick missiles and AGM-84 Harpoons. These aircraft were upgraded in 1987. Some were upgraded to become night reconnaissance aircraft.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

The single seat F/A-18E and the two seat F/A-18F are very much redesigned aircraft, based on the original airframe. Both have more powerful engines and improved avionics, and will eventually equip 22 squadrons. The F/A-18F will be modified to make the EA-18 Growler, which will eventually replace the EA-6 Prowler.[12]


Function Light fighter-bomber
Contractor McDonnell Douglas
Power plant Two General Electric F404-GE-402 turbofans with 11,000 pounds of thrust each
Length 56 feet
Height 15 feet, 4 inches
Speed 1,190 miles per hour
Wingspan 40 feet
Empty weight 24,700 pounds
Maximum Weight 65,000 pounds
Crew (A, C, and E models):One. (B, D, and F models): Two.
Range Unrefueled 2,070 miles (with drop tanks)
Armament One Vulcan Gatling gun with 578 rounds; 13,790 pounds of assorted stores under the wings including AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder, and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick, AGM-84 Harpoon, and AGM-45 Shrike air-to-surface missiles.
The Blue Angels in F/A-18 Hornets.

The F/A-18 in Popular Culture

The Hornet is frequently seen in military-themed novels, including Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising. The F-18 had a starring role in the blockbuster movie Independence Day, and appeared briefly in the animes Area 88 and Silent Service.


  1. Fact File US Navy
  2. Libyan Wars, 1980-1989
  3. F/A-18 Hornet Milestones
  4. Desert Storm: Air War, by Robert F. Dorr, Motorbooks International, 1991
  5. A U.S. Team Seeks War Pilot’s Body
  6. Missing U.S. Pilot Dead, Iraq Insists
  7. Operation Desert Fox Order of Battle
  8. Friendly fire toll raises concerns about Patriot
  9. 2 Navy Fighter Jets Crash in Persian Gulf
  10. Naval Aviation Squadrons Military Analysis Network
  11. The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft, ed. by Paul Eden, Aerospace Publishing, 2004
  12. EA-18G/F/A-18G "Growler"