Tag Archives: F-18

Of old Hornets and Frenchies

The Royal Australian Air Force this week bade farewell to the F-18A/B, early Hornet models they have flown since the mid-1980s.

Via the RAAF:

After more than 30 years, and nearly 408,000 total fleet flying hours, the F/A-18A/B Classic Hornet flew over Australia for the last time. Up to 12 aircraft departed RAAF Base Tindal on a final sortie over Darwin and the Northern Territory; before proceeding to Queensland.

The remaining aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Williamtown, their final destination, where Air Force held an end of era event on November 29. Since 1985, Air Force operated 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets at RAAF Base Williamtown and RAAF Base Tindal with the fleet now being retired and replaced with the F-35A Lightning II aircraft.

The RAAF also released an excellent “jet only” raw footage reel of the Hornet at work, sans any overdub or background music, which is great!

In other “F-35 as Hornet replacement” news

The Finnish Defense Force seems to have downselected the F-35 over the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and the Saab Gripen E to replace their early generation C/D model Hornets.

Switzerland made a similar choice earlier this year.

In the past, Finnish Hornet drivers on exchange tours with the U.S. Navy have even pulled down carrier quals.

180317-N-FK070-0120 ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 17, 2018) Finnish Air Force Capt. Juha Jarvinen lands an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Sharpshooters of Marine Strike Fighter Training Squadron (VMFAT) 101 on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). This marks the first time a Finnish pilot has performed an arrested landing aboard an aircraft carrier. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/Released)


Rafale finally gets some love

Meanwhile, the French Navy is celebrating 20 years of operating the only nuclear-powered CATOBAR carrier in history that wasn’t on the U.S. Naval List. The 45,000-ton Charles de Gaulle (R91) is the flagship of the Marine Nationale and, while ordered in 1986 to replace the smaller, conventionally-powered Clemenceau and Foch, was not commissioned until 2001, with her first deployment being to Afghanistan as part of Operation Heracles in December.

Originally intended to fly F-8E (FN) Crusaders– the only other country to use the American “gunfighter” from a flattop- and Falklands-proven Super Étendards, De Gaulle soon switched to an all-Rafale M airwing augmented by E-2C Hawkeye AEWs and a few Panther/Caiman helicopters for CSAR/ASW work. The French Navy currently runs four squadrons of Rafale M F3-Rs, totaling around 40 active airframes. The Royal Navy cries over that one, for sure, as they will likely never operate that many British F-35s at any one time from their carriers.

Interestingly, De Gaulle can also accommodate F-18s, as the U.S. Navy has often done cross-decking with both Hornets and C-2 Greyhounds, the COD version of the Hawkeyes sans frisbee. In goose and gander terms, both USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS George H.W. Bush have embarked Rafale dets in 2008 and 2018, respectively, and the French strike fighter is the only foreign type currently cleared to operate on U.S. cats and traps.

Speaking of Rafales

In related news, the United Arab Emirates Air Force just placed a big $18 billion order for 80 Rafale F4 fighters, making them the largest non-French customer. Smaller orders have been placed by Croatia, Egypt, Greece, India, and Qatar in the past decade, but the UAE tender is the biggest to date. Canada, Indonesia, Iraq, Ukraine, and Spain, among others, are still looking at the plane.

Santa’s keeping that list

With “the Season” now underway, this seemed relevant.


Official caption:

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Dec. 24, 2019) A Sailor dressed as Santa Claus directs the launch of an F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to the Pukin’ Dogs of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 143 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. With Abraham Lincoln as the flagship, deployed strike group assets include staffs and aircraft of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 12, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 2 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7. U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremiah Bartelt (Released)

The latest Hornet buzz

The McDonnell Douglas/Northrop and now currently Boeing-produced F/A-18 Hornet series have been around since 1974, making it a 46-year-old platform.

The Northrop YF-17/pre-production F-18. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archive 428-GX-K-118818. Photographed by PH2 James C. Brown

Originally pitched to the Air Force to replace their fleet of F-4 Phantoms and A-7 Corsairs, a job that went to the F-16, the Navy chose the YF-17 runner-up as the fast mover to replace their own A-4 Skyhawk and remaining F-4s (as well as the A-6 Intruder and A-7 once the A-12 program tanked in the 1980s). Entering preproduction in 1978 and gaining IOC in the early 1980s, the zippy F-18A/B single-seat and C/D twin-seaters held down the last days of the Cold War for the Navy and Marine Corps then went on to see combat in the original Gulf War, over Bosnia, and in the post-9/11 sandbox excursions.

Likewise, Northrop dropped its export F-20 Tigershark, an updated F-5E with new avionics and combat systems, in favor of selling the F-18 overseas and found success with Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland– pretty successful for a carrier aircraft!

The 2015 CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Aircraft unveiled at a ceremony held at 3 Wing Bagotville in Saguenay, Québec on 27 March 2015. Image: LS Alex Roy, Atelier d’imagerie Bagotville BN01-2015-0186-005

With the U.S. Navy (and someday the Marines) shedding the F-18C/D model in favor of the altogether larger and more capable F-18E/F Super Hornet and putting the EA-6B Prowler in the boneyard in favor of the EA-18G Growler variant, other countries that have Baby Hornet experience have been looking at the Super Hornet to upgrade as well. For instance, Kuwait ordered 22 F/A-18Es and 6 F/A-18Fs to replace their older F-18C/Ds while Australia has picked up 24 F/A-18Fs for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to replace their aging F-111s, while F-35s will be replacing the F-18Cs.

Retired Ozzy F-18s coming home

Speaking of Australia, it was just announced that workers at RAAF Base Williamtown will service and prepare up to 46 retired F/A-18 Classic Hornet aircraft that will be sold to air combat training company Air USA.

Caption: Flying Officer Chris Baker from RAAF No. 3 Squadron, prepares his F/A-18C jet for takeoff at the start of a night mission out of RAAF Base Darwin. NATO Exercise Pitch Black 2008 (PB08)  

The Classic Hornet aircraft will be used to provide training services to the United States Air Force and will be prepared over the next three to four years.

Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Melissa Price MP, said the work will provide employment certainty for workers in the NSW Hunter region.

“The work to prepare these aircraft and components for sale will provide 24 direct industry jobs while Air Force transitions from the Classic Hornet to the F‑35 Joint Strike Fighter,” Minister Price said.

Meanwhile in Germany…

The West German Luftwaffe in the 1970s was one of a quartet of forces to include the West German Navy’s Marineflieger, the British Royal Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare to go all in for a variant of the Panavia Tornado swing-wing strike fighter. While the Marineflieger is now helicopter-only, the RAF has retired their Tornados and the Italians are in the process of doing the same, Berlin is still fielding the old bird, which left production more than 20 years ago.

Note German Great War ace Max Immelmann on the tail.

This amounts to some 85 Tornado IDS strike planes and 28 Tornado ECR SEAD/EW aircraft. While perhaps the most logical replacement would be more Eurofighter Typhoons, of which the Luftwaffe is already fielding 140, it now looks like the Tornados will be replaced with a mix of 78 to 90 Tranche 3 Typhoons, 30 FA-18E/F Super Hornets and 15 EA-18G Growlers.

As noted by Forbes, the Hornets and Growlers will be acquired because Eurofighter does not currently have B-61 nuclear bomb-certified (drawn from NATO stocks) Typhoons or a SEAD variant of the same available any time soon.

The first sting, 41 years ago

U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archive 428-GX-K-118818. Photographed by PH2 James C. Brown

Here we see a parked YF-17A/F-18 Prototype aircraft aboard Naval Air Station, Miramar, San Diego, California. October 28, 1977

Offical caption: “McDonnell Douglas Corporation, with Northrop as principal subcontractor, is building the F-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. When the F-18 joins the fleet, it will replace both the F-4 Phantom II for fighter escort and the A-7 Corsair II in light attack missions.”


Since being adopted, some 1,480 ‎F/A-18A/B/C/Ds were built for the U.S., Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Australia, Kuwait, Malaysia, and Spain with production ending in August 2000. The line has been replaced by the larger and more sophisticated E/F series.

The U.S. Navy is in the process of retiring these early model Hornets, having completed their last carrier deployment in March. Reportedly, Allied operators are looking to do the same in coming years, with even the youngest F-18s pushing age 20, and many (Marines, talking to you) almost twice that.

Migs swimming with Hornets and Tomcats

Off Pula, Croatia, 2002 — An F-14 Tomcat fighter assigned to the Jolly Rogers of Fighter Squadron One Zero Three (VF-103) leads a formation comprised of F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters from the Blue Blasters of VFA-34, the Sunliners of VFA-81, and the Rampagers of VFA-83:

U.S. Navy photograph 021029-N-1955P-020 by CAPT Dana Potts. (RELEASED)

More on the photo:

“U.S. aircraft belong to Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17), currently embarked on board. Two Croat MiG-21 Fishbed fighter-interceptors flank the each side of the formation. U.S. Navy aviation squadrons assigned to Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17) have sent a detachment to Croatia in order to participate in Joint Wings 2002. Joint Wings is a multinational exercise between the U.S. and the Croat Air Force designed to practice intelligence gathering. George Washington is homeported in Norfolk, Va., and is nearing the end of a scheduled six month deployment after completing combat missions in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch.”