The History of the F/A-18 Hornet

In the 1970’s, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps were in search of a multirole aircraft to replace their existing fleet of F-4 Phantoms and A-7 Corsair IIs. Hence, the F/A-18 Hornet (Fighter/Attack), which became renowned as one of the most versatile and successful combat aircraft in military aviation history, was born.

Initially, Northrop developed the YF-17 Cobra to compete with the General Dynamics YF-16 in the Lightweight Fighter program. While the YF-16 was selected by the US Air Force, this wasn't the end for the YF-17 design. The US Navy took an interest in the aircraft and this lead to the evolution of the F/A-18 Hornet. McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) and Northrop took up the aircraft's production, with the F/A-18 Hornet first taking to the skies in November 1978.

The Hornet underwent significant redesigns from the YF-17 Cobra to be carrier-compatible, including the addition of a tailhook, a slightly larger and reinforced airframe, folding wings, and catapult attachments. The F/A-18's design was heavily influenced by the need for a plane adept in both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It was among the pioneering tactical aircraft specifically designed to carry out both roles - boasting agility in air combat and precision in striking ground targets. By incorporating digital avionics, it facilitated easier pilot control and more effective mission performance.

The Hornet's combat history is as impressive as its design. Its first action was during the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986, where it showcased its precision strike capabilities. The aircraft has since been deployed in numerous conflicts, including the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan. Its multirole capability has proven invaluable in these theaters, capable of rapidly transitioning between air superiority and ground-attacks.

The F/A-18 Hornet has found a solid place in many air forces worldwide, with countries like Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland operating the Legacy Hornet. The US, Australia, and Kuwait have also gone on to operate the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets.

Throughout its service life, the F/A-18 Hornet has undergone continuous upgrades, most notably evolving into the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The Super Hornet, approximately 30% larger, boasts greater fuel capacity and increased range, and carries a wider variety of weapons than its predecessor. It also features improved avionics and radar systems - making it even more formidable.

The Super Hornet made its combat debut in 2002 during Operation Southern Watch in Iraq. It has been extensively used in the War on Terror, demonstrating its effectiveness in both air-to-air combat and precision ground-attack missions.