The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet is a modern all-weather carrier-capable strike fighter jet, designed to attack both ground and aerial targets. Designed in the 1970s for service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, the Hornet is also used by the air forces of several other nations. It has been the aerial demonstration aircraft for the Blue Angels since 1986.
Its primary missions are fighter escort, fleet air defense, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), 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 contemporaries. The Hornet has also been exported to several nations worldwide.
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 F-4 Phantom II, A-4 Skyhawk, and A-7 Corsair II, and to complement the F-14 Tomcat.
In August 1973, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger ordered the Navy to evaluate the competitors in the Air Force's Light Weight Fighter (LWF) program, the General Dynamics YF-16 and Northrop 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.
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 4,460 pounds, 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 4 inches, and the engines canted outward at the front.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
The F/A-18 first saw combat action in April 1986, when Hornets from USS Coral Sea flew SEAD missions against Libyan air defences as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon.
Two U.S. Navy F/A-18s were destroyed, with the loss of their pilots, during the Gulf War. On 17 January 1991, the first day of the war, Lt Cmdr Scott Speicher (VFA-81) was shot down and remains missing in action. The U.S. Navy maintains that Speicher was downed by a surface to air missile. However, an unclassified summary of a 2001 CIA report states that Speicher's aircraft was shot down by a missile from an Iraqi aircraft, and that he may have survived by ejecting.
One source claim that the Iraqi aircraft was a MiG-25, firing a Bisnovat R-40/AA-6 Acrid missile. The other F/A-18 destroyed was piloted by Lt Robert Dwyer, who has been officially listed as killed in action; the cause of his loss is unclear.
F/A-18 pilots were credited with two kills during the Gulf War, both MiG-21s. On the first day of the war, U.S. Navy pilots Lt Nick Mongilio and Lt Cmdr Mark Fox were sent from the USS Saratoga in the Red Sea to bomb an airfield in southwestern Iraq. While enroute they were warned by E-2 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. Overall during the Gulf War, F/A-18s flew 4,551 sorties with ten Hornets damaged including the two previously mentioned losses.
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 Night Hawk FLIR (forward looking infrared array) targeting pod, night vision goggles, and two full-color (previously monochrome) MFDs and a color moving map.
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, more powerful GE F414 engines based on F/A-18's F404, and upgraded avionics suite.
Specifications (F/A-18C Hornet)
Length: 56 ft (17.1 m)
Powerplant: 2× General Electric F404-GE-402 turbofans
(This text was adapted from http://www.wikipedia.org/ )(GFDL)
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