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Aviation History Month Day 18 - 18th of November 1978

The first full-scale McDonnell Douglas F/A-18-1-MC Hornet took to the sky for the first time, from Lambert Field St. Louis Missouri, on this day in aviation history.

The first McDonnell Douglas F/A-18-1-MC Hornet

The aircraft with Bu. No. 160775, was flown by McDonnell Douglas Corporation Chief Test Pilot John Krings. The 50-minute test flight saw the aircraft up to 24.000 ft (7315 meters).

The F/A-18 was designed as a Fighter (F) & Attack (A) aircraft and was based on the YF-17 a prototype lightweight fighter aircraft developed by Northrop. The idea behind the design was the belief that the F-15 Eagle was too big and too expensive for some of the combat roles. The YF-17 competed with the YF-16 for the lightweight fighter contract for the US Airforce, which was won by the YF-16, which would be developed into the YF-17 F-16 Fighting Falcon. The YF-17 was picked up by the US Navy as a potential successor for the A-7 Corsair II and the F-4 Phantom II. Although the initial design was a small and lightweight fighter aircraft, it was scaled up to what we now know as the F/A-18 Hornet. Over the years several versions of the F/A-18 have been developed, an overview;

F/A-18A & F/A-18B The first production variant, where the 'A" version is the single-seat version and the 'B' version is the two-seat version. The 'B' version is fully combated capable, although it has a 6% reduced internal fuel capacity to make space for the second seat. Also, some avionics had to be relocated

In 1992 a new radar was installed (Raytheon AN/APG-73) on certain 'A' models, they were redesignated as F/A-18A+

F/A-18C & F/A-18D

With extensive upgrades, the 'A' became the 'C' and the 'B' became the 'D'. The 'D' can be configured as a training version or as an all-weather strike aircraft, in the latter version the rear seat cockpit is equipped as a Weapons and Sensors Officers station, The main differences between the 'C' and 'D' from the first production version are;

  • Upgraded Avionics

  • Upgraded Radar (with synthetic ground mapping function)

  • Capability to carry modern weapon systems

  • Martin-Baker NACES (Navy Aircrew Common Ejection Seat)

  • Self-protecting Jammer

In later versions also night attack capability was introduced using different pods;

  • Thermal Navigation pod

  • FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) pod

  • Night Vision goggles

In 1992 a new engine became the standard, the F404-GE-402, which provided ~10% more static thrust.

Production of the 'C' and 'D' models stopped in 2000, with the last produced aircraft being delivered to the Finish Air Force, a F/A-18C. The last delivered F/A-18D went to the US Marines, both in August 2000.

E/F Super Hornet

Although still designated as a F/A-18 the Super Hornet is an extensively redesigned aircraft. The main upgrades are;

  • 25% bigger airframe

  • Square and larger intakes

  • GE F414 engines

  • Upgraded avionics

Oval A/B vs, Square intakes

E/A Growler Electronic Warfare variant entered production in 2007 and is the replacement for the EA-6B Prowler

F-18(R) Proposed reconnaissance version of the F/A-18A/ Two prototypes flew i August 1984,

Not many were produced


Proposed two-seat reconnaissance version, never produced


Innitial designation for the F/A-18B

F-18 HARV Single-seat High Alpha Research Vehicle for NASA. For high angles of attack using thrust vectoring,

X-53 Active Aeroelastic Wing

Modified F/A-18 to demonstrate Active Aeroelastic Wing technology, and was designated X-53 in December 2006.

Other versions were specially designated as export versions.

US Navy F/A-18 C (from public domain)

Specifications for a F/A-18C/D;

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 (C)/2 (D - pilot and weapon systems officer)

  • Length: 56 ft 1 in (17.1 m)

  • Wingspan: 40 ft 4 in (12.3 m) with AIM-9 Sidewinders on wingtip LAU-7 launchers

  • Width: 32 ft 7 in (9.94 m) wing folded

  • Height: 15 ft 5 in (4.7 m)

  • Wing area: 410 sq ft (38 m2)

  • Empty weight: 23,000 lb (10,433 kg)

  • Gross weight: 36,970 lb (16,769 kg)

  • Max takeoff weight: 51,900 lb (23,541 kg)

  • Fuel capacity: 10,860 pounds (4,930 kg) internally

  • Powerplant: 2 × General Electric F404-GE-402 afterburning turbofan engines, 11,000 lbf (49 kN) thrust each dry, 17,750 lbf (79.0 kN) with afterburner


  • Maximum speed: 1,034 kn (1,190 mph, 1,915 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)

  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.8

  • Cruise speed: 570 kn (660 mph, 1,060 km/h)

  • Range: 1,089 nmi (1,253 mi, 2,017 km)

  • Combat range: 400 nmi (460 mi, 740 km) air-air mission

  • Ferry range: 1,800 nmi (2,100 mi, 3,300 km)

  • Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)

  • Rate of climb: 50,000 ft/min (250 m/s)

  • Wing loading: 93 lb/sq ft (450 kg/m2)

  • Thrust/weight: 0.96 (1.13 with loaded weight at 50% internal fuel)

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