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The F/A-18 Hornet and Variants

F/A-18 Development History

In the late 1960s the USAF started its Lightweight Fighter program (LWF). The program’s purpose was to see if it would be possible to build a credible fighter plane that was significantly lighter and less expensive than the F-15. The prototypes became the General Dynamics YF-16 and the Northrop YF-17. Aerial evaluation of the YF-17 began on June 9, 1974. The YF-17 lost the competition. Northrop, in conjunction with McDonnell-Douglas, modified the YF-17 to make it a suitable fighter for the U.S. Navy. In June, 1975 the U.S. Navy (USN) announced its decision to acquire the aircraft and designated it the F-18. On August 1, 1975 the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced it would outfit 4 squadrons with the aircraft to be designated.[i] There was to be a fighter version, the F-18, and an attack version, the A-18. The aircraft were designated F/A-18s.

The Canadian, Spanish, and Australian air forces also purchased the F/A-18. The Canadian version is officially designated the CF-188. The F/A-18s entered service with the U.S. Navy in January 1983.[ii]

McDonnell-Douglas merged with Boeing and Northrop Merged with Grumman. Grumman became Northrop Grumman. Boeing made E and F variants of the F/A-18. These aircraft were designated Super Hornets. These variants are 25% larger and have more powerful engines than previous Hornets. They are more maneuverable, have a greater range, and can carry a larger payload. The F/A-18E has a single seat and the F/A-18F has two tandem seats. The Super Hornets entered operational service in 1999.[iii]

Boeing developed an electronic version of the F/A-18, the EA-18G Growler. This aircraft joined the U.S. Navy fleet in 2008. The U.S. Navy celebrated Earth Day 2010, April 22, with the flight of an F/A-18F powered by a sustainable biofuel blend of 50% camelina and 50% JP-5 aviation fuel. This aircraft was nicknamed Green Hornet. The aircraft won seven consecutive awards for environmental excellence from the U.S. Navy. In August 2013 Boeing and Northrop Grumman began flight tests with an Advanced Super Hornet with conformal fuel tanks, an enclosed weapons pod, and other signature enhancements.[iv]

[i] U.S. Fighters by Lloyd S. Jones, © 1975 by Aero Publishers, Inc.

[ii] Boeing Aircraft’s F/A-18 Hornet page,, last accessed 1/26/19.

[iii] Boeing Aircraft’s F/A-18 Hornet page,, last accessed 1/26/19.

[iv] Boeing Aircraft’s F/A-18 Hornet page,, last accessed 1/26/19.

F/A-18 Hornet & Super Hornet Stats

U.S. Navy Fact File -

 F/A-18C & DF/A-18E & F


Two F404-GE-402 enhanced performance turbofan engines. 17,700 pounds static thrust per engine.

Two F414-GE-400 turbofan engines. 22,000 pounds (9,977 kg) static thrust per engine.

Weight (Max)

51,900 pounds (23,537 kg).

66,000 pounds (29,932 kg).


Mach 1.7+.

Mach 1.8+.


50,000+ feet.

50,000+ feet.

Combat Range

1,089 nautical miles (1252.4 miles/2,003 km), clean plus two AIM-9s

1,275 nautical miles (2,346 kilometers), clean plus two AIM-9s


One M61A1/A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon; AIM 9 Sidewinder, AIM 7 Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, Harpoon, Harm, SLAM, SLAM-ER, Maverick missiles; Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW); Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM); various general purpose bombs, mines and rockets.

One M61A1/A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon; AIM 9 Sidewinder, AIM-9X (projected), AIM 7 Sparrow, AIM-120 AMRAAM, Harpoon, Harm, SLAM, SLAM-ER (projected), Maverick missiles; Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW); Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM); Data Link Pod; Paveway Laser Guided Bomb; various general purpose bombs, mines and rockets.

F/A-18 in Combat

F/A-18s first saw combat on March 24, 1986 when they supported A-6 and A-7 aircraft in the Gulf of Sidra. F/A-18 first used weapons in combat during Operation El Dorado Canyon, April 14, 1986. Hornets fired AGM-88 HARM missiles against active Libyan radars.[i]

On the first night of Operation Desert Storm an Iraqi MiG-25 shot down an F/A-18, killing the pilot, Lieutenant Commander Scott Speicher[ii]. Lieutenant Commander Mark Irby Fox and Lieutenant Nicholas Mongillo each shot down a MiG-21 while they were on a bombing mission.[iii] After they shot down the MiG-21s Lt. Cmdr. Fox and Lt. Mongillo completed their bombing mission. One F/A-18 was lost to ground fire and another was lost in a noncombat related incident in Operation Desert Storm. Some Hornets took direct hits from Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and returned to base. Ground personnel were able to repair the battle-damaged Hornets and these aircraft flew missions the next day. Thirty Canadian C-18s flew Operation Desert Storm missions and suffered no losses.

In July 1993 U.S. Navy and USMC F/A-18s began round-the-clock missions in support of NATO air operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Spanish EF-18s began supporting NATO’s Bosnia-Herzegovina mission in 1995. When NATO began airstrikes against Bosnian Serb positions on August 30, 1995 USN and USMC F/A-18s were in the first wave of strike aircraft.[iv]

The U.S. launched a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq on December 16, 1998 dubbed Operation Desert Fox. Tomahawk cruise missiles and carrier-based aircraft led the attack. This caught the Iraqis off guard.[v] U.S. Navy F/A-18s and 12 USMC F/A-18s were among the aircraft used in the campaign. This campaign was the first time American women flew strike aircraft in combat. Three women F/A-18 pilots from Carrier Wing 3, Lieutenants Carol Watts, Kendra Williams, and Lyndsi Bates, flew missions against Iraq on the first night of Operation Desert Fox.

On March 24, 1999 NATO began operations, called Operation Allied Force, against Yugoslavian forces in Kosovo. U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18s, Canadian Air Force CF-18s and Spanish Air Force EF-18s flew missions against Yugoslavian forces and infrastructure. Spanish EF-18s destroyed a petroleum storage tank and at least four buildings. Canadian CF-18s destroyed a barracks and an ammunition storage dump. U.S. Navy F/A-18s destroyed at least one bridge and damaged another. Among the F/A-18s targets were troop concentrations, vehicle convoys, artillery pieces, bunkers, and buildings. F/A-18s also acted as airborne forward air controllers. No F/A-18s were lost in Operation Allied Force.

On August 10, 2001 F/A-18s were part of a strike package that attacked Iraq. On September 10, 2001 F/A-18s from the USS Carl Vinson flew strike missions against Iraq. Four F/A-18s from the USS George Washington struck targets in Iraq on September 5, 2002.

U.S. Navy F/A-18s were among the first wave of attack aircraft in Operation Enduring Freedom. Enduring Freedom was the first time the F/A-18F Super Hornet was used in combat. On December 21, 2001 F/A-18s were among the aircraft that attacked a convoy and a compound. The attack destroyed 14 vehicles and killed 65 enemy troops. F/A-18s struck al-Qaeda’s Zawar Kili Camp numerous times in January 2002. Often in recent conflicts aircraft were tasked to destroy friendly equipment to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. On the 24th two F/A-18s destroyed a crashed CH-53E helicopter with two precision guided bombs. F/A-18s flew missions during Operation Anaconda. During this operation F/A-18s supported the crew of a downed Chinook helicopter. F/A-18s bombed Mullah Omar’s house. In another building attack F/A-18s killed Mohammed Atef and 50 other terrorists. In one attack a USMC F/A-18 missed its target with a 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). The bomb destroyed a Northern Alliance tank, killed six Northern Alliance Soldiers, and injured 5 U.S. troops. Besides bombing and strafing F/A-18s also flew overwatch, show of force, and reconnaissance missions. Among the F/A-18 pilots that flew missions in Afghanistan was USMC Lieutenant Colonel Amy “Krusty” McGrath. She flew 89 missions in Afghanistan.[vi]

In Operation Iraqi Freedom Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, F/A-18s flew missions against Iraqi forces. F/A-18s dropped the U.S. Navy’s first two 500-pound JDAMs. F/A-18s suffered no losses to enemy action. On April 2, 2003 a U.S. Army Patriot missile shot down an F/A-18C. Lieutenant Nathan D. White, the pilot, was killed in the shootdown. On May 2, 2005 two USMC F/A-18s crashed over Iraq. The crash was apparently a mid-air collision. Major John C. Spahr and Captain Kelly C. Hinz died in the crash. Another F/A-18 mid-air collision occurred on January 7, 2008. The USS Harry S. Truman rescued all three crew members. The EA-18G Growlers flew their first combat missions in Iraq.

In March 2011 U.S. and other NATO forces used airpower to support the revolution in Libya. EA-16Gs supported this operation. Canadian CF-188s flew over 700 sorties. On March 25, 2011 two CF-188s attacked an electronic warfare site.

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When the Islamic State rose in Iraq and Syria in 2014 the U.S. and some other countries joined together in the fight against them. On August 8, 2014 F/A-18s attacked an Islamic State vehicle convoy and an artillery piece in separate attacks. The next day two F/A-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush escorted a C-17 and two C-130s on a humanitarian mission to Mount Sinjar. CF-188s have flown over 1,300 sorties against Islamic State forces. RAAF F/A-18 Super Hornets have also flown missions against the Islamic State. In one case an F/A-18 Weapons System Operator discovered a network of bunkers and caves. Allied air forces then bombed the network. The struggle against Islamic State forces in Syria is a multi-way struggle. On June 18, 2017 F/A-18E pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 with an AMRAAM.

[i] Operation Prairie Fire and El Dorado Canyon, by Ravi Rikhye, 1/20/02,, last accessed 1/27/19.

[ii] For years after the conflict the U.S. military didn’t acknowledge any U.S. aircraft lost in air-air combat. Lt. Cmdr. Speicher’s remains were recovered during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

[iii] Airpower in the Gulf by James P. Coyne © 1992 by The Air Force Association.

[iv] Canadian CF-18 Hornets Ready To Serve In Bosnia,, last accessed 2/2/19.

[v] Saddam Outfoxed, by Ronald Lewis, Air Forces Monthly, No 132, March 1999.

[vi] United States Naval Academy web site,, last accessed 2/6/19.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi


Robert Sacchi (author) on March 04, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 04, 2019:


Very interesting.

Robert Sacchi (author) on March 02, 2019:

Thank you both for reading and commenting.

POD ejection systems seem to have a history of problems. I recall the F-111 had problems with their ejection system.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 02, 2019:

Hey, Robert, I appreciated your feedback. Thank you.

Brad on March 02, 2019:


That reminds me of a story that I heard, when I started on the B1-B project. The original B1 had a crew module that in case of a failure, the pilot would eject the Pod, and the Pod would then float to the ground by parachute. The B1 while not supersonic could travel fairly fast and at altitudes of 100 ft. This is what they were doing when there was a failure on the B1, the POD was ejected but, and I don't remember why, the Captain died when the POD hit the ground.

I seem to remember that the fuel management system was on manual and one of the tanks went low or dry and the other tanks caused an unbalance that caused the failure. I am sure you know the importance of fuel management and distribution systems.

The B1-B didn't use the POD and instead have a tube escape for 2 singles at a time, for a total crew of 6. usually the 2 were instructors or flight checkers, and their seats were on top of the escape tubes.

As I recall, the B1-B didn't use the POD because the POD was ejected with explosives, and they would be less effective or reliable as time went on. And the replacement of the explosives would cost a significant amount and expensive amount of tear down, maybe more than 50% and the figure 75% is sounding in my head.

So once again the crew had to do it the old fashion way.

Robert Sacchi (author) on March 02, 2019:

Yes, low altitude flying is very trilling. Such flying really shows the pilots skill.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 01, 2019:

Hello, Roberts, good to know and thanks. The speed of a fighter plane/ jet is trilling. So, I regularly watch films depicting jet fighters. One of my favorites is brimestorm and fire, at very low altitude. Thanks for weighing in.

Robert Sacchi (author) on March 01, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Brad Masters - thanks for sharing about the B-1B Ramp Test Systems.

Miebakagh Fiberesima - What is amazing is the F/A-18 has a relatively low top speed, under Mach 2. This probably isn't considered critical since most air-air combat takes place below Mach 1.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 01, 2019:

Hello, Robert, this is another masterpiece of story on military air crafts. I amfacinated by the range of speed and power. Thanks for sharing.

Brad on February 28, 2019:


It was an interesting experience, and I had a great time because I wasn't an employee and didn't have to worry about politics as I mentioned before. I also met a lot of interesting people, most were fellow contractors, and some were employees.

When I worked on the B1-B Ramp Test Systems, I worked for a guy that was a Rockwell employee, and he was able to get his jet pilot license somehow through Rockwell. That was a sizeable bonus. Rockwell had one of the top simulators and pilots from around the world would come to fly it. I only saw it from the ground and it was huge, those piston that moved the simulator were pretty high and I believe they had 6 axis movement. The details escape me and that is why I don't write articles on them.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 24, 2019:

I'm impressed. It seems your jobs give you much to write about.

Brad on February 24, 2019:


Not really, it was in the 80s and a lot has happened since then to make the recall hazy.

I told you in one of your other articles, that after Northrop I spent 1984-88 working on the machines that tested the B1-B bomber. I also worked on the database for all its parts. These were different divisions of the Rockwell.

Then I went into the commercial data storage and peripheral devices at several companies. As a consultant, I worked at a lot of companies on many different projects. In the mid 1990s I worked on a 777 project that got me to Cheltenham England for 3 months. The only time I have been out of the country not counting Mexico, and Canada.

These consulting jobs were all fun. In the 80s, I worked as a consultant at Mattel on the Intellivision. Like the F20 the products didn't make it, but it was still fun trying.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 24, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. That had to be a very exciting job working on the F20 project. Have you considered writing a Hub on that?

Brad on February 24, 2019:


Interesting article on the F18. In the 1980s, I worked at Northrop on the F20 Tigershark, the Northrop funded its own plane. In programming the testing of this new plane we modified and used some of the F18 test programs. As you know, Northrop was not allowed to sell to China by the US State Department. This eventually forced the project to end. All the buyers outside of China wanted the F18 or F16. Working for Northrop was a great job as I was a contractor I didn't have to get into the company politics. I just worked with a team on the project which is great.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 16, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. I have been following military actions, especially those involving aircraft for many years. Much of the information is from news reports. Sometimes countries are in denial about how their losses occurred. Another reality is often times remans aren't found. One rule about excavating old crash sites is if human remains are found to stop immediately and notify the military or police.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 16, 2019:

Reading this amazing level of detail, I was of course impressed once again by your reaseach but also I wondered how you possibly keep up with the new developments. I found it sad that pilots lost in battle didn’t have their combat death acknowledged the way it happened nor did they have their remains returned for a long time. I’m glad the right things finally happened.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 14, 2019:

Glad you found the information useful. Often museums have guided tours. I found guides to be very knowledgeable. The tours go through exhibits slower but it's worth the time.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 13, 2019:

Thanks, that's very useful information. Next time I go round an air museum, I will understand a little more about the military planes I am viewing.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 13, 2019:

In commercial aviation in the U.S. and in other countries the letters preceding the number designates the manufacturer, such as the B-787, for the Boeing 787 jetliner and Su-22 for the Russian Su-22 attack aircraft. In the U.S. military the initial(s) stand for the aircraft's role. For example:

A - for Attack

F - for Fighter

E - for Electronic

B - for Bomber

C - for Cargo plane

The Hornet got its F/A designation because of its dual role purpose.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 12, 2019:

That explains a lot. It's a tough world in aircraft manufacturing. I think I assumed that the same letter denoted the same manufacturer. Thanks for clearing that up.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 12, 2019:

No, the prime contractor for the F-35, and the F-22, is Lockheed-Martin. Boeing lost the Joint Strike Fighter competition to Lockheed-Martin.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 12, 2019:

I noticed in recent UK media coverage that the RAF is taking delivery of a batch of F-35s. Would these be from the same manufacturer as the F-18s?

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 11, 2019:

Yes, a 1/1000 second shutter speed freezes almost anything.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 11, 2019:

That's a good point. I used to have a SLR film camera for many years. I found it easier capturing our kids when they were young than I do now with my grandson. One quick movement and it's struggling.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 10, 2019:

I think it was easier last century than this century. I could be wrong but it seems the digital camera, at least the one I have, doesn't react as quickly as the old SLR camera.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 10, 2019:

That's an impressive range of photos. It's not easy to capture a plane/planes flying at speed.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 10, 2019:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Thank you, yes, I took all these photos myself. I use to go to the Joint Base Andrews open house every year. This made for some great opportunities to see and photograph military hardware. The photos can never match actually being there to watch the aircraft perform.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 10, 2019:

This is a detailed and interesting history of these aircraft. Did you take the impressive opening photos yourself?

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