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Boeing / McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet Multirole Carrierbased Strike Aircraft (1983)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 8/28/2013

With the retirements of the F-14 Tomcat and A-6 Intruder, the F/A-18 Hornet assumed the fleet defense and strike roles for the US Navy.

The F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine carrier-based attack fighter currently in frontline service with a variety of forces worldwide. Derived from the failed YF-17 Cobra attempt at a new USAF lightweight fighter (the F-17 lost out to the YF-16 which in turn became the F-16 Fighting Falcon), the F/A-18 Hornet can still be considered one of the most lethal strike fighters in service today.

The F/A-18 began life as two separate models encapsulating a pure interceptor and pure strike variant. Eventually the decision was made to combine the two services into one dynamic platform that could be switched on the fly if mission parameters required it. Early F/A-18 Hornets would be fitted with the General Electric base F404 turbofans which would later be augmented by the arrival of the enhanced F404-GE-402 series.

As a carrier-capable platform, the F/A-18 maintains a rugged airframe with folding wings making it suitable for storage in lower decks. The initial role saw the Hornet groups supplementing existing F-14 squadrons but with the retirement of the F-14 series in 2007, the F/A-18 has taken center stage.

First F/A-18 delivering began in the early 1980's with a dedicated night-capable variant arriving later in the decade. Enhancements to the radar, avionics and weapon systems have brought the F/A-18 series up to speed, making it one of the more deadly carrier-based aircraft around.

Utilized in several conflicts since its inception, the Hornets have maintained a good success ratio with only a few falling to enemy fire. The system, designed with the pilots survivability in mind, is capable of taking rough damage and still having a short turnaround time in terms of maintenance and repair - sometimes as little as 24 hours.

The F/A-18 "Super Hornet" arrived in 2002 and represented an aircraft that was 20 percent larger and more powerful than the base Hornets. The tandem-seat Super Hornet was designed to be ultra-capable in both strike and interceptor roles and squadrons are already operating on various USN carrier battle groups. The Super Hornet is built on the F414-GE-400 series of powerplants, which stands as a highly advanced modified version of the original F404 turbofans. As a whole, the Super Hornets, despite their advanced infrastructure, is compiled of less parts than the original Hornets making the Super Hornet that much easier to maintain. Additional hardpoints make the Super Hornet a viable replacement to the F-14 Tomcat and A-6 Intruders that once owned American flight decks.

A newer variant expected to see service around 2010 and based on the successful F/A-18 airframe is the EA-18 Growler, an electronic warfare variant that is set to replace the aging EA-Prowlers (based on the Vietnam-era A-6 Intruder airframe). In all, this latest addition will make the F/A-18 series one of the most robust and numbered in the United States inventory.

With modernization programs in place, the Hornet series as a whole is expected to survive well into 2019. With the arrival of the multi-faceted F-35 Lightning II (derived from the Joint Strike Fighter program), the Hornets and Super Hornets might have a shorter life than that should the F-35 come into its own sooner than expected.

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Specifications for the
Boeing / McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
Multirole Carrierbased Strike Aircraft

Focus Model: Boeing / McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: McDonnell Douglas / Boeing / Northrop - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1983
Production: 1,480

Crew: 1 or 2

Length: 60.70ft (18.5m)
Width: 44.88ft (13.68m)
Height: 15.98ft (4.87m)
Weight (Empty): 23,049lbs (10,455kg)
Weight (MTOW): 55,997lbs (25,400kg)

Powerplant: 2 x General Electric F404-GE-400 turbofan engines generating 16,000lbs of thrust each.

Maximum Speed: 1,190mph (1,915kmh; 1,034kts)
Maximum Range: 2,073miles (3,336km)
Service Ceiling: 50,033ft (15,250m; 9.5miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 45,000 feet per minute (13,716m/min)

Hardpoints: 11 (including wingtip mounts)
Armament Suite:
1 x 20mm M61 Vulcan six-barreled internal cannon

Mission-specific ordnance can include any of the following (up to 13,700lbs):

AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles
AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles
AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles
GPS Laser-Guided Bombs
Dumb Bombs
Smart Bombs
AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles
AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles
AGM-84 bombs

YF-17 "Cobra" - Prototype developed by Northrop to go up against the YF-16 in the USAF Light-Weight Fighter Competition (LWF) to which the YF-17 prototype lost.

F/A-18 - Base Production Model Designation manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, merged now with Boeing Corporation.

F/A-18A - Initial Production Model; single-seat

F/A-18B - Two-Seat Production Model; originally designated as the TF/A-18A.

F/A-18C - Electronic and System improvements; replaced the F/A-18A model in production; enhanced weapons carrying capabilities; later models fitted with night attack capabilities.

F/A-18D - Two-seat Version of the F/A-18C production model; later models fitted with night attack capability.

F/A-18D (RC) - United States Marine Corps Reconnaissance Model of the F/A-18D.

F/A-18E "Super Hornet" - Single-seat improved Hornet model replacing the retired F-14 Tomcat series.

F/A-18F "Super Hornet" - Two-seat improved Hornet model replacing the retired F-14 Tomcat series.

EA-18F "Growler" - Electronic Warfare Model of the "Super Hornet" line to replace the EA-6B Prowler series.

TF-18A - Original Model Designation for the two-seat F/A-18B.

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