The Boeing F/A-18 Hornet

The Boeing F/A-18 Hornet

The F/A-18 Hornet, an all-weather aircraft, is used as an attack aircraft as well as a fighter. In its fighter mode, the F/A-18 is used primarily as a fighter escort and for fleet air defence; in its attack mode, it is used for force projection, interdiction and close and deep air support.

In 1972, the USAF sought proposals for a new fighter under the Lightweight Fighter (LWF) programme. The LWF prototype programme called for a small, lightweight, low cost, air superiority day fighter designed for high performance and ease of maintenance. The Northrop YF-17 was tested against the General Dynamics YF-16 in the LWF fly-off competition. The F-16 won and entered production starting in 1975.

The US Navy also evaluated the YF-17 and was interested in developing a strengthened version capable of carrier operation. Northrop teamed with McDonnell Douglas to develop this new air combat fighter which evolved into the F-18.

The F/A-18 Hornet has once again demonstrated its versatility during the recent war in Kosovo. Two Marine Corps F/A-18D model Hornets-the two seat version-equipped with the Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) entered combat operations on 26th May 1999 filling a void in airborne manned tactical reconnaissance in the Marine Corps since the RF-4 Phantom retired from service.

The U.S. Marine Corps began taking delivery of Hornets with provisions for a reconnaissance package in February 1992. Plans call for a total purchase of 31 tactical reconnaissance conversion kits, 24 data link pods and seven squadron ground stations. Deliveries will continue through 2002.

The combat-proven F/A-18 Hornet is a single- and dual-seat, twin-engine multi-mission tactical aircraft. It is the first tactical aircraft designed from its inception to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

Today, the F/A-18 is in service with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the air forces of Canada, Australia, Spain, Kuwait, Finland, Switzerland, and Malaysia. As of May 1999 Hornet pilots have accumulated more than 3.7 million flight hours and, in the process, are establishing new records daily in safety, reliability, maintainability and mission performance.

A key aspect of the Hornet's popularity with pilots is the ease with which the aircraft can be converted from fighter to strike mode and back again; it's as easy as flipping a switch. During Operation Desert Storm, F/A-18's routinely performed fighter and strike missions on the same sortie. Fulfilling a variety of roles-air superiority, fighter escort, suppression of enemy air defence, reconnaissance, forward air control, close air support, and day and night strike missions-the F/A-18 has proven to be the most versatile combat aircraft in service.

The Hornet was designed to be reliable and easily maintainable. These factors result in significantly lower operating and maintenance costs for the F/A-18 compared to other U.S. Navy fighter and attack aircraft; and life cycle costs comparable to other modern multi-role aircraft. Survivability is another key feature of the Hornet. The F/A-18 uses a variety of systems and technologies to increase its likelihood of reaching a target undetected, of escaping undamaged if detected, and of returning its crew safely if it is hit. These systems and technologies have been significantly enhanced in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to further improve survivability.

The F/A-18 has been upgraded regularly since entering service in 1983. In November 1989, the first F/A-18's equipped with night strike capability were delivered. Since 1991, F/A-18's have been delivered with F404-GE-402 enhanced performance engines that produce up to 20 percent more thrust than previous F404 engines. The Hornet's two engines deliver about 36,000 pounds (16,329 kilos) combined thrust and a top speed of more than Mach 1.8.

Since May 1994, the Hornet has been equipped with upgraded radar - the APG-73 -, which substantially increases the speed and memory capacity of the radar's processors. In addition, today's Hornets have a laser target designator/ranger, housed within the targeting forward-looking infrared sensor that enables the aircraft to deliver precision laser-guided bombs with pinpoint accuracy.

The Hornet's exceptional operational record and its continuous improvements have sparked ongoing international interest. The Philippines, Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have all expressed interest in the Hornet for future procurements.

Canada was the first international customer for the F/A-18, and its fleet of 138 Hornets is the largest outside the United States. Deliveries to Canada were completed in 1988. Canadian CF-18s operate out of Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, Alberta; and Canadian Forces Base Bagotville. The Canadian Forces are currently planning an aircraft modernisation programme, which would significantly upgrade the avionics of their CF-18's.

The Operational Conversion Unit at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown received its first Hornets in May 1985. Hornets delivered to the RAAF were assembled in Australia. Aircraft are located at Williamtown, in the east, and RAAF Base Tindal, in the north. Deliveries were completed in May 1990. Currently, the fleet is undergoing a two phase upgrade to include advanced avionics, new countermeasures, a new radar and an advanced air to air weapons system.

The Spanish Air Force procured 72 EF-18s from 1986 to 1990. The SAF operates Hornets from air bases at Zaragoza, Torrejon and Meron. In September 1995, the SAF signed a letter of offer and acceptance to procure an additional 24 F/A-18A's from the U.S. Navy inventory.

Kuwait signed a letter of offer and acceptance for 40 F/A-18 aircraft in August 1988. Delivery of the 40 aircraft was completed in August 1993. The aircraft are based at Al Jabar Air Base, near Kuwait City. Kuwait received the first F/A-18's powered with General Electric's new F404-GE-402 enhanced performance engines.

Currently, Kuwait is in a post-production support mode. The United States continues to support the Kuwait Air Force with programme management, contract administration, logistics, field team visits and sustained engineering.

Finland signed a letter of offer and acceptance for 64 aircraft in June 1992. The Boeing Company delivered seven F-18D two-seat aircraft to the Finnish Air Force in 1995. The first of 57 single-seat aircraft, all C models, were delivered in June 1996 by Boeing's subcontractor Finavitec in Halli, Finland. Finavitec delivered the final F-18 in 2000.

Switzerland is procuring two complete F/A-18's, 32 F/A-18 kits, support equipment and services. An F/A-18D and F/A-18C were delivered to Switzerland in December 1996 and early 1997 respectively. Kits for the remaining 32 aircraft were delivered in 1997. They are currently undergoing final assembly and ramp operations at the Swiss Aircraft and Systems Co. in Emmen, near Lucerne. Malaysia signed a letter of offer and acceptance for eight F/A-18 aircraft and support in December 1993. All eight aircraft were delivered during 1997.

The Boeing Company leads a nation-wide industry team that builds the F/A-18 Hornet. Boeing builds the forward fuselage and wings, and conducts final assembly. Northrop Grumman Corp. is the principal airframe subcontractor, supplying the centre and aft fuselage. General Electric Co. produces the Hornet's engines, and Raytheon manufacturers the aircraft's radar.

The F/A-18 demonstrated its capabilities and versatility 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.

Hornets taking direct hits from surface-to-air missiles, recovering successfully, being repaired quickly, and flying again the next day proved the aircraft's survivability. The F/A-18 is a twin engine, mid-wing, multi-mission tactical aircraft. The F/A-18A and C are single seat aircraft. The F/A-18B and D are dual-seaters. The B model is used primarily for training, while the D model is the current Navy aircraft for attack, tactical air control, forward air control and reconnaissance squadrons. The newest models, the E and F were rolled out at McDonnell Douglas on 17th Sept 1995. The E is a single seater while the F is a two-seater.

All F/A-18's can be configured quickly to perform either fighter or attack roles or both, through selected use of external equipment to accomplish specific missions. This "force multiplier" capability gives the operational commander more flexibility in employing tactical aircraft in a rapidly changing battle scenario. The fighter missions are primarily fighter escort and fleet air defence; while the attack missions are force projection, interdiction, and close and deep air support.

The F/A-18C and D models are the result of a block upgrade in 1987 incorporating provisions for employing updated missiles and jamming devices against enemy ordnance. C and D models delivered since 1989 also include an improved night attack capability. The E and F models currently in production are building on the proven effectiveness of the A through D aircraft. The Super Hornet provides aircrew the capability and performance necessary to face 21st century threats.

The F/A-18 E/F acquisition programme was an unparalleled success. The aircraft emerged from Engineering and Manufacturing Development meeting all of its performance requirements on cost, on schedule and 400 pounds (181.4 kg) under weight. All of this was verified in Operational Verification testing, the final exam, passing with flying colours receiving the highest possible endorsement.

The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet was designed with 17 cubic feet (0.481 cubic meters) of "growth space" for electronic systems — avionics and associated wiring. This means that when newer technology is available, it can be added to continually update Super Hornet's warfighting capability and survivability.

Armament: Up to 17,000 pounds (7711.2 kilos) on nine stations; can carry sidewinder heat-seeking and Sparrow missiles, plus air-to-ground ordinance; internal 20mm cannon mounted in nose; C/D models can carry IR Maverick and AMRAAM missiles.


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