US Navy/Marine Corps designations: F/A-18A, B, C, D
Royal Australian Air Force designations: AF-18A and ATF-18A
Canadian Forces designations: CF-18A/B
Spanish Air Force designations: C.15 and CE.15
PROGRAMME: US Navy study of VFAX low cost, lightweight multi-mission fighter accepted Spring 1974; VFAX study terminated August 1974 and replaced by derivative of either General Dynamics YF-16 or Northrop YF-17 lightweight fighter prototypes; McDonnell Douglas proposed F-17 derivative with Northrop as associate; resultant Navy Air Combat Fighter called Hornet accepted in two versions, F-18 fighter and A-18 attack aircraft; single F/A-18 selected to fill both roles; agreed 1985 McDonnell Douglas prime contractor and Northrop principal subcontractor for all versions; first Hornet flight (160775) 18 November 1978; 11 development aircraft flying by March 1980; delivery of US Navy F/A-18A/B (TF-18A designation dropped) to US Navy and Marines began May 1980 and completed 1987; millionth flying hour achieved 10 April 1990.
Total 1,000 Hornets delivered by 22 April 1991, of which over 700 to US forces; including FY 1991 procurement of 48, firm orders by March 1991 totalled 11 development and 848 production for USA and 325 export; USN proposed procurement of 48 each in FYs 1992-93 towards total of 1,157 production Hornets required.
Enhancements to Hughes AN/APG-65 radar funded ($65.7 million) May 1990; co-operative venture with USN, Canada and one other Hornet operator; new signal and data processors, upgraded receiver/exciter; available for FY 1994 installation, if production funded.
VARIANTS: F/A-18A: Single-seater. 369 F/A-18As and 41 two-seat F/A-18Bs (plus 11 prototypes, including two tandem-seat trainers) for USN and USMC as escort fighters to replace F-4s and as attack aircraft replacing A-7s under FYs 1979-85 contracts; first development squadron (VFA-125) formed at NAS Lemoore, California, November 1980; in service 7 January 1983 with Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron 314 at MCAS El Toro, California; first Atlantic Fleet squadrons formed NAS Cecil Field, Florida, 1 February 1985; same month VFA-113 'Stingers' and VFA-25 'Fist of the Fleet' embarked in USS Constellation.
US Navy squadrons with F/A-18A/Bs are VFAs 15, 87, 106 (also C/D), 132, 137 and Blue Angels display team at NAS Cecil Field, Florida; VFA-151, 192 and 195 at Atsugi, Japan; and USN Reserve squadrons VFA-203 at Cecil Field, VFA-204 at New Orleans, VFA-303 at Lemoore and VFA-305 at Point Mugu. Marine squadrons include VMFA-115, 122, 251, 312, 333, and 451 at Beaufort, South Carolina; and VMFA-314, 323, 531 and VMFAT-101 (also C/D) at El Toro, California. First combat experience by VFA-131, 132, 314 and 323 from USS Coral Sea attacking Libyan targets 1986.
F/A-18B: Combat capable two-seater; internal fuel capacity reduced by 6 per cent; production figures and US operating squadrons, see F/A-18A.
F/A-18C and F/A-18D: Single- and two-seat versions respectively. Purchased from FY 1986 onwards; 137 F/A-18Cs and 31 F/A-18Ds bought under 1986-87 procurements are baseline non-night attack models, overall total of 438 F/A-18C/Ds (including Night Attack - see below) funded between FY 1986 and FY 1991 (batches of 84, 84, 84, 72, 66 and 48), of which one-quarter two-seaters; first flight of production F/A-18C (163427) 3 September 1987. Squadrons with F/A-18C/Ds are VFA-37, 81, 82, 83, 86, 105, 131 and 136 at Cecil Field, Florida; VFA-22, 25, 27, 94, 97, 113, 125, 146 and 147 at Lemoore, California (VFA-46 and 72 converting in 1991); and Marine units VMFA-212, 232, and 235 at Kanehoe Bay, Hawaii. Modifications include provision for up to six AMRAAM missiles (two on fuselage and two on each outboard pylon); up to four imaging IR Maverick missiles (one on each wing pylon); provision for AN/ALQ-165 airborne self-protection jammer (ASPJ) interchangeable with AN/ALQ-126B; provision for reconnaissance equipment; upgraded stores management set with 128K memory, Intel 8086 processor, MIL-STD-1553B armament multiplex bus with MIL-STD-1760 weapons interface capability; flight incident recorder and monitoring set (FIRAMS), with integrated fuel/engine indicator, data storage set for recording maintenance and flight incidents data, signal data processor interfacing with fuel system to provide overall system control, enhanced built-in test capability and automatic CG adjustment as fuel is consumed; maintenance status panel isolating faults to card level; and new faster XN-6 mission computer with twice memory of previous XN-5.
Small rectangular fence retrofitted to US Navy aircraft above LEX strake just ahead of wing leading-edge broadens LEX vortices, reduces fatigue and improves directional control at angles of attack higher than 45°
F/A-18C/D Night Attack: First flight of prototype 6 May 1988; one Night Attack F/A-18C (163985) and one D (163986) delivered to Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, on 1 and 14 November 1989 respectively; all F/A-18Cs and Ds delivered subsequently (FY 1988 procurement) have all-weather night attack avionics. Marine Corps needs six squadrons of F/A-18Ds to replace Grumman A-6Es, McDonnell Douglas OA-4s and RF-4Bs in attack, reconnaissance and forward air controller roles; this requires 96 aircraft, of which only 48 authorised in 1990; deliveries began to VMFA(AW)-121 at El Toro, California, 11 May 1990, to be followed by VMFA(AW)-242, 225 (reconnaissance), 224, 232, and 553 in FYs 1991-95; Navy squadrons unchanged, with two-seaters used as trainers only.
Night Attack system includes pilot's night vision goggles. Hughes AN/AAR-50 thermal imaging navigation set (TINS) presenting forward view in Kaiser AN/AVQ-28 raster HUD, colour multi-function displays and Honeywell colour digital moving map; USMC version of F/A-18D has mission-capable rear cockpit with no control column, but two sidestick weapons controllers and two 12.7 cm (5 in) MFDs; may be converted to dual control, with stick and throttles, for pilot training.
F/A-18D(RC): Simple reconnaissance version launched 1982 and first flown 1984 included a twin-sensor package replacing guns in nose; now being developed is Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) centreline pod containing Loral AN/UPD-8 SLAR high resolution synthetic aperture side-looking radar supplementing nose-mounted optical and IR sensors; images transmitted in real time by data link and also viewed in rear cockpit; pod has capacity for electro-optical camera; pod, data link and processing equipment flight tested in USMC RF-4B; F/A-18D(RC) can be reconverted to fighter/attack overnight; IOC planned with USMC in FY 1994.
F/A-18E/F: Proposed single- and two-seat stretched versions offered as replacement for cancelled GD/MDC A-12; gross weight increased by 5,262 kg (11,600 lb); 86 cm (2 ft 10 in) fuselage plug, wing area increased by 9.29 m² (100 sq ft) and span by 1.3 m (4 ft 3½ in); larger tailplane; additional 1,361 kg (3,000 lb) of internal fuel and 1,406 kg (3,100 lb) of external fuel, 40 per cent extra range; non-afterburning power plants developed from GE F412 (intended for A-12); greater weapon load for primary strike/attack role; two more hardpoints and extra survivability features. USN requesting R&D funding of $435 million in FY 1992 and $1,000 million in FY 1993; first flight planned early 1996.
AF-18A and ATF-18A: Royal Australian Air Force version; decision to purchase 75 announced 20 October 1981; deliveries started 17 May 1985; first flight of ATF-18A assembled by Aerospace Technologies of Australia (ASTA), 26 February 1985; first flight of Australian manufactured aircraft (ATF-18A, A21-104) 3 June 1985; last of 57 single-seat and 18 two-seat Hornets delivered 16 May 1990; Hornet replaced Dassault Mirage IIIO; units are No. 2 OCU, Williamtown, No. 3 Squadron (formed August 1986) and No. 77 Squadron at same base and No 75 Squadron, Tindal. Weapons include AIM-9L, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-84 Harpoon and 2,000 lb LGBs; from 1990, remaining 74 aircraft being fitted with F-18C/D type avionics and provision for Ford Aerospace AN/AAS-38 IR tracking and laser designating pod.
CF-18A and B: Canada's purchase of 138 Hornets (finalised as 98 CF-18As and 40 two-seat CF-18Bs) announced 10 April 1980; first flight of CF-18 29 July 1982; deliveries between 25 October 1982 and September 1988; CAF units are No. 410 OCU and Nos. 416 and 441 Squadrons at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta, 425 and 433 at Bagotville, Quebec, and 439, 409 and 421 Squadrons of No. 4 Fighter Wing/No. 1 Air Division at Baden Sollingen, Germany. Unit strengths are six As and 20 Bs at the OCU, 10 As and three Bs in home-based squadrons and 43 As and six Bs shared by the German squadrons. Differences from US Navy F/A-18 include ILS, in-flight identification spotlight in port side of fuselage, and provision for LAU-5003 19-tube pods for CRV-7 70 mm (2.75 in) high velocity submunition rockets; other weapons are AIM-7M and AIM-9L air-to-air missiles, 227 kg (500 lb) Mk 82 bombs and Hunting BL755 CBUs. Pilot has comprehensive cold weather land survival kit.
EF-18A and B: Spanish version; purchase of 60 single-seat Hornets and 12 two-seaters, known respectively as C.15 and CE.15 under Futuro Avion de Combate y Ataque programme announced 30 May 1983; financial restrictions reduced number from 84 and deliveries then stretched from 36, 24 and 12 from 1986 to 1988 to 11, 26, 15, 12 and eight from 1986 to 1990; maintenance performed in Spain by CASA, which also works on Canadian Hornets in Europe and USN Hornets with 6th Fleet in Mediterranean; first flight Spanish Hornet 4 December 1985; deliveries began 10 July 1986; all 12 trainers delivered by early 1987; armament includes AIM-7F and AIM-9L air-to-air missiles, AGM-84 Harpoon, AGM-88 HARM and free-fall bombs; AIM-120 AMRAAM ordered 1990. First 36 aircraft have Sanders AN/ALQ-126B deception jammers ordered in 1987; final 36 received Northrop AN/ALQ-162(V) systems. Units equipped are Ala de Caza 15 (15th Fighter Wing) formed at Zaragoza December 1985 and operational December 1987, with 30 A and six B shared between Escuadrones 151 and 152; Ala de Caza 12 at Torrejon (Escuadrones 121 and 122) completed re-equipping in July 1990.
CUSTOMERS: In addition to US Navy/Marine Corps, Australia, Canada and Spain (see Variants). Switzerland selected 26 F/A-18Cs and eight F/A-18Ds powered by GE F404-GE-402 engines in October 1988, as its Neue Jagdflugzeug to replace F-5Es; contract was expected late 1990 for entry into service 1994, but decision changed during 1990 to examine new offer of Mirage 2000-5 from Dassault. Kuwaiti contract signed September 1988 for 32 F/A-18Cs and eight F/A-18Ds together with AGM-65G Maverick, AGM-84 Harpoon, AIM-7F Sparrow and AIM-9L Sidewinder; deliveries January 1992-93; F404-GE-402 power plants. South Korea requirement for 120 F/A-18C/Ds, of which first 12 to fly in USA, announced December 1989; cancelled, March 1991, in favour of GD F-16.
COSTS: $12.2 million, flyaway unit cost, Kuwait contract in 1989. $55,632 million (1991) US programme, 1,168 aircraft.
DESIGN FEATURES: Sharp-edged, cambered leading-edge extensions (LEX), slots at fuselage junction and outward-canted twin fins are designed to produce high agility and docile performance at angles of attack over 50°; wings have 20° sweepback at quarter-chord; wings fold up 90° at inboard end of ailerons, even on land-based F/A-18s; landing gear designed for unflared landings on runways as well as on carriers.
FLYING CONTROLS: Full digital fly-by-wire controls using ailerons and tailerons for lateral control, plus flaps in flaperon form at low airspeeds; leading- and trailing-edge flaps scheduled automatically for high manoeuvrability, fast cruise and slow approach speed, both rudders turned in at take-off and landing to provide extra nose-up trim effort; fly-by-wire returns towards 1g flight if pilot releases controls; lateral and then directional control progressively washed out as angle of attack reaches extreme values; height, heading and airspeed holds provided in fly-by-wire system; US Navy aircraft can land automatically using carrier-based guidance system; airbrake panel located on top of fuselage, between fins. Bertea hydraulic actuators for trailing-edge flaps; Hydraulic Research actuators for ailerons; National Water Lift actuators for tailerons.
STRUCTURE: Multi-spar wing mainly of light alloy, with graphite/epoxy inter-spar skin panels and trailing-edge flaps; tail surfaces mainly graphite/epoxy skins over aluminium honeycomb core; graphite/epoxy fuselage panels and doors; titanium engine firewall. Northrop produces rear and centre fuselages; assembly and test at McDonnell Douglas St Louis factory; CASA produces horizontal tail surfaces, tlaps, leading-edge extensions, speedbrakes, rudders and rear side panels for all F/A-18s.
LANDING GEAR: Retractable tricycle type, with twin-wheel nose and single-wheel main units. Nose unit retracts forward, mainwheels rearward, turning 90° to stow horizontally inside the lower surface of the engine air ducts. Bendix wheels and brakes. Nosewheel tyres size 22 x 6.6-10, 20 ply, pressure 24.13 bars (350 lb/sq in) for carrier operations, 10.34 bars (150 lb/sq in) for land operations. Mainwheel tyres size 30 x 11.5-14.5, 24 ply, pressure 24.13 bars (350 lb/sq in) for carrier operations, 13.79 bars (200 lb/sq in) for land operations. Ozone nosewheel steering unit. Nose unit towbar for catapult launch. Arrester hook, for carrier landings, under rear fuselage.
POWER PLANT: Two General Electric F404-GE-400 low bypass turbofans, each producing approx 71.2 kN (16,000 lb st) with afterburning. F404-GE-402 EPE (Enhanced Performance Engine) installed from early 1992, with additional 20 per cent thrust. Self-sealing fuel tanks and fuel lines; foam in wing tanks and fuselage voids. Internal fuel capacity (JP5) approx 6,061 litres (1,600 US gallons; 1,333 Imp gallons). Provision for up to three 1,250 litre (330 US gallon; 275 Imp gallon) external tanks. Flight refuelling probe retracts into upper starboard side of nose. Simmonds fuel gauging system. Fixed ramp air intakes.
ACCOMMODATION: Pilot only, on Martin-Baker SJU-5/6 ejection seat, in pressurised, heated and air-conditioned cockpit. Upward opening canopy, with separate windscreen, on all versions. Two pilots in F/A-18B and USN F/A-18D; pilot and Naval Flight Officer in USMC F/A-18D.
SYSTEMS: Two completely separate hydraulic systems, each at 207 bars (3,000 lb/sq in). Max flow rate 212 litres (56 US gallons; 46.6 Imp gallons)/min. Bootstrap type reservoir, pressure 5.86 bars (85 lb/sq in). AiResearch air-conditioning system. General Electric electrical power system. Garrett GTC36-200 APU for engine starting and ground pneumatic, electric and hydraulic power. Oxygen system. Fire detection and extinguishing systems.
AVIONICS: Include an automatic carrier landing system (ACLS) for all-weather carrier operations; a Hughes Aircraft AN/APG-65 multi-mode digital air-to-air and air-to-ground tracking radar, with air-to-air modes which include velocity search (VS), range while search (RWS), track while scan (TWS), which can track ten targets and display eight to the pilot, and raid assessment mode (RAM) Loral AN/AAS-38 attack FLIR; Honeywell digital moving map display; Smiths Industries multi-purpose colour cockpit display; Collins AN/ARN-118 Tacan, AN/ARC-182UHF/VHF com and DF-301E UHF/DF; Magnavox AN/ALR-50 and Litton AN/ALR-67 radar warning receivers; GEC Ferranti Type 117 laser designator; Goodyear AN/ALE-39 chaff dispenser; Sanders AN/ALQ-126B ECM; Harris AN/ASW-25 radio data link; Eaton AN/ARA-63 receiver/decoder; GEC Ferranti FID 2035 horizontal situation display; Bendix/King HSI; J.E.T ID-1791/A flight director indicator; ITT/Westinghouse AN/ALQ-165 airborne self-protection jammer (ASPJ); General Electric quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire flight control system, with direct electrical backup to all surfaces and direct mechanical backup to tailerons; two Control Data AN/AYK-14 digital computers; Litton AN/ASN-130A inertial navigation system; two Kaiser multi-function CRTs, central GEC Ferranti-Bendix/King CRT and Kaiser AN/AVQ-28 head-up display; Conrac communications system control; Normalair-Garrett digital data recorder for Bendix/King maintenance recording system; flight incident recording and monitoring system (FIRAMS); Smiths standby altimeter; and Kearflex standby airspeed indicator, standby vertical speed indicator, and cockpit pressure altimeter. Night Attack F/-18 has Hughes AN/ARR-50 thermal imaging navigation set, Honeywell colour digital moving map display (replacing film-strip map) and provision for GEC Cat's Eyes NVGs.
ARMAMENT: Nine external weapon stations, comprising two wingtip stations for AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles; two outboard wing stations for an assortment of air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons, including AIM-7 Sparrows, AIM-9 Sidewinders, AIM-120 AMRAAMs, AGM-84 Harpoons and AGM-65F Maverick missiles; two inboard wing stations for external fuel tanks, air-to-ground weapons or Brunswick TALD tactical air-launched decoys; two nacelle fuselage stations for Sparrows or Martin Marietta AN/ASQ-173 laser spot tracker/strike camera (LST/SCAM) and Loral AN/AAS-38 FLIR pods; and a centreline fuselage station for external fuel or weapons. Air-to-ground weapons include GBU-10 and -12 laser guided bombs, Mk 82 and Mk 84 general purpose bombs, and CBU-59 cluster bombs. An M61 20 mm six-barrel gun, with 570 rounds, is mounted in the nose and has a McDonnell Douglas director gunsight, with a conventional sight as backup.