THIS DAY IN AVIATION - November 18, 1978: The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.
The U.S. Navy started the Naval Fighter-Attack, Experimental (VFAX) program to procure a multirole aircraft to replace the Douglas A-4 Skyha…wk, the A-7 Corsair II, and the remaining McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs, and to complement the F-14 Tomcat. Though the Northrop YF-16 was selected, the Navy was skeptical that an aircraft with one engine and narrow landing gear could be easily or economically adapted to carrier service, and refused to adopt an F-16 derivative. The Navy asked McDonnell Douglas and Northrop to develop a new aircraft from the design and principles of the YF-17. On 1 March 1977 Secretary of the Navy W. Graham Claytor announced that the F-18 would be named “Hornet”.
The F-18, initially known as McDonnell Douglas Model 267, was drastically modified from the YF-17. For carrier operations, the airframe, undercarriage, and arrestor hook were strengthened, folding wings and catapult attachments were added, and the landing gear widened. Fuel capacity was increased, and the engines canted outward at the front. The control system was replaced with a fully digital fly-by-wire system with quadruple-redundancy, the first to be installed in a production fighter.
Still in service, the Marines have chosen to extend the use of certain of their F/A-18s up to 10000 flight hours, due to delays in the F-35B version. The US Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron switched to the F/A-18 Hornet in 1986, when it replaced the A-4 Skyhawk. The Blue Angels perform in F/A-18A and B models at air shows and other special events across the US and worldwide. Blue Angels pilots must have 1,350 hours and an aircraft carrier certification.