McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet - Navy's response to Falcon

[Would you like to see this aircraft in the game?]
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  • No

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[What Battle Rating should it have?]
  • 12.0
  • 12.3
  • 12.7
  • Higher/Lower/Other
  • I voted no in first question

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A repost of F/A-18A Hornet suggestion from old forums

McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet


Hornet prototype BuNo 160777 landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) during carrier suitability tests in 1979.

Description

Spoiler

The F/A-18 design has its roots in 1966, at Northrop’s advanced projects office in Hawthorne, not far from Los Angeles airport. The leader of the design team, Lee Begin, had been responsible for the F-5 fighter. With the latter established in production, Northrop was looking at ideas for a follow-on fighter which would eventually replace the F-5 and other widely used fighter of the same vintage. As in the case of the F-5, Northrop had the international market very much in mind.

The first designs resembled a scaled-up, high-wing F-5, with two engines and the same thin, minimally swept wing with leading-edge maneuvering flaps. The design evolved between 1966 and 1969 in the light of market surveys and combat lessons from Vietnam. Begin’s goal was o develop a relatively small fighter which could easily outturn older, large-winged subsonic aircraft like he MiG-17, while retaining supersonic speed and the ability to carry large external weapons loads. The new fighter’s wing span and aspect ratio increased. The design thrust/weight ratio approached 1:1 at combat weights. Leading-edge root extensions (LERX) appeared and grew steadily larger and more complex with each iteration of the design. The LERX affected the airflow over the tail, so single vertical tail was replaced by twin canted surfaces.


Evolution of P530 design which ultimately culminated with F/A-18 Hornet

Together with Northrop president Tom Jones, Begin believed that the Pentagon’s main fighter competitions of the late 1960s would lead to large and costly aircraft which most countries could not afford. Northrop was never a front-runner in the contest to develop the USAF’s F-4 replacement, won by McDonnell Douglas’ F-15. By 1971, however, Begin’s new fighter, the P530, was far enough advanced to be shown in the form of a full-scale mock-up at the Paris air show. Northrop named it Cobra, because of its hood-like LERX. The company’s plan was to develop the Cobra in collaboration with one of more European partners, as a replacement for aging F-104s, and Mirages.

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Northrop fell victim to its own success in promoting the idea of the lighter, more agile fighter. A group of analysts, engineers and Air Force pilots, nicknamed the ‘Fighter Mafia’, managed to attract the attention of budget-conscious, innovative civilian leaders at the Pentagon. The US Air Force was still unconvinced of the value of a smaller fighter, but was persuaded to sponsor a program under which two designs would be built and flown as prototypes. This was enough to bring other competitors into the ring - most significantly, General Dynamics, which was awarded the contract to build two YF-16 Lightweight Fighter (LWF) prototypes in April 1972. Northrop, to no one’s surprise was the other winner, with a Cobra derivative known as the YF-17.

By the time the prototypes flew, the stakes had been raised dramatically. The Department of Defense, facing post-Vietnam budget cuts, directed Air Force to buy 650 new fighters based on the winning LWF design, and four NATO nations looking for an F-104 replacement (Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark) agreed to buy their aircraft as a single package. In the absence of credible European alternative, it appeared that the winner of the USAF contest would scoop the European market too. Most observers agreed that the bomber-builders of Fort Worth stood little chance against the Northrop, with its extensive light-fighter experience and years of work on the P530, so it was all the more surprising when the YF-16 out-pointed its rival in tests and won the USAF contest.

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Cobra prototypes in flight.

The competition was not quite winner-take-all, however. Congress directed the US Navy to use a version of one of the LWF designs to meet its requirement for a new fighter/attack aircraft, formerly known as VFAX but later identified as the Navy Air Combat Fighter (NACF). The Navy’s requirement was stiffer than the USAF’s: for instance, it called for the ability to carry AIM-7 medium range air-to-air missiles, and the radar specification was tougher, calling for a larger antenna than would fit in the YF-16 or YF-17. Both factors tended to make the NACF into larger aircraft than the USAF design. Either aircraft would need a new engine: the fact that the F-16 had the same engine as the F-15 was an advantage in the USAF contest but was of no help in NACF. It was also clear from the outset that the Navy preferred a twin engine aircraft.

The Navy insisted that the NACF prime contractor be a company with experience in carrier fighters. GD teamed with a Texas neighbor, Vought, while Northrop joined forces with McDonnell Douglas. Of the two prime contractors, only McDonnell Douglas had recent supersonic fighter experience; the company had lately worked with Hughes on the sophisticated radar for the F-15. McDonnell Douglas and Northrop were announced as winners in May 1975, and the first F/A-18 flew in November 1978. It was a new aircraft, sharing only its general layout with the YF-17. Compared with its predecessor, it was larger, more powerful, incorporating the stronger structure and landing gear required for carrier operations.

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F-15 (background) and F/A-18 (foreground) prototypes in flight

In many respects, the F/A-18 was technologically more advanced than the F-16A. Its fly-by-wire flight control system used digital rather than analog processors. It used more composite materials (in the wing skins, for example). It had multi-mode radar, and a cockpit which used cathode-ray tube (CRT) displays in place of conventional dial-and-pointer instruments. It was designed from the ground up to accept pods for electro-optical navigation and targeting aids, and the AIM-7 medium range air-to-air missile, neither of which would be carried on the early F-16 variants. McDonnell Douglas touted the new fighter as a true multirole type, as opposed to the simpler F-16A.


F/A-18A cockpit

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The engine used in the F/A-18 Hornet was General Electric F404, formerly known as the YJ-101 during the YF-17 Cobra testing. General Electric was particularly anxious to make this engine successful since Pratt & Whitney was already making engines for the F-14, F-15 and F-16. The F404 engines installed in the Hornet had close tot the same thrust as the General Electric J79 engines, which powered the F-4. Thrust commonality was where the similarity ended between the two engines. The F404 was half the weight, was one-third shorter, had 40 percent fewer parts, was four times more reliable, could be installed on either side of the Hornet, was smokeless, and had the same responsiveness as the J79 although through greater range of operation. The Hornet demonstrated better than a 90 degree angle of attack (AOA) with a 45 degree angle of side slip. The J79 was one of the great fighter engines of the jet age, but the newer F404 showed how much the state of the art had advanced. The performance of the engines provided a significant improvement over the F-4 and A-7, which the F/A-18 would replace. On-board fire extinguishers allowed the pilot to put out fires quickly.

Cockpit

Spoiler

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Photo of F/A-18A cockpit

All combat functions for air-to-air and air-to-ground attack could be operated from the controls on the throttles and stick grip (Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick or HOTAS has since become another standard for modern fighter design). Like other fighters of its generation, the primary information display was the Head-Up-Display (HUD) on the gunsight glass. The HUD displayed airspeed, altitude, vertical speed, AOA, heading, Mach number, Gs, and a variety of weapons delivery information. The older, round barometric instruments, which were located in a bottom corner of the panel, were relegated to a backup role. Aircraft systems were monitored with the information displayed on CRTs and managed with the 20 push buttons that surrounded each of those CRTs. The benefits of having all the necessary information within the pilot’s immediate field of view were reduced fatigue and a reduced susceptibility to vertigo. The preceding generations of fighter aircraft had dozens of controls and gauges on the cockpit consoles, which often required a pilot to look down, left, right, or even slightly to the rear in order to use them. This constant movement was a sure-fire recipe for vertigo when outside visual cues were not sharply defined.

Weapon systems

Spoiler

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Page from brochure showing various loadouts

Hornet’s capability is impressive and the aircraft is compatible with a vast array of ordnance, encompassing air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, conventional “iron” bombs and “smart” weapons. The primary weapons, when employed in the air-to-air role, are the AIM-7 Sparrow and the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Missile configurations may vary, the F/A-18 being able to operate with maximum of six AIM-9s and two AIM-7s or, alternatively, four AIM-7s and two AIM-9s. The Hornet is particularly well-equipped for target detection, and if it can be said to have an “Achilles heel” in aerial combat, this probably relates to the Sparrow missile. The third weapon which may be employed in aerial combat is the Vulcan M61A1 20-mm cannon which also has air-to-ground applications. Total ammunition capacity is 570 rounds, with maximum rate of fire around 100 rounds per second.

In air-to-ground mode, the weapon options are truly bewildering, especially if target detection devices are fitted. With regard to payload potential, the F/A-18A may operate with up to 17,000lbs (7,711kgs) of ordnance, which typically includes a pair of wingtip mounted AIM-9 Sidewinders for self-defense. Such a payload would however rarely be carried and in more normal situations, auxiliary fuel tanks would almost certainly be fitted, the centerline and inner wing stations being able to pump in fuel. Offensive weaponry is then restricted to the two outer underwing hardpoints but the F/A-18 could still do a fair bit of damage, typical weapon configurations including four Mk.83 1,000lb (454kg) or two Mk.84 2,000lb (907kg) bombs or four “Rockeye” cluster bomb units (CBUs) or, for a real heavyweight punch, two B57 or B61 tactical nuclear weapons.

As far as conventional ordnance is concerned, low-drag “slicks” and high-drag Snakeye bombs may be employed while laser-guided Paveway versions of the Mk.82, Mk.83 and Mk.84 can be used against pin-point targets. Other “smart” weapons with which F/A-18 is compatible include electro-optically guided devices such as the AGM-62 Walleye glide bomb and the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile. Both of these weapons feature a small television camera in the nose, which generates pictures which are presented on one of the cockpit displays. All the pilot then has to do is locate the target and lock on it, as steering instructions are relayed automatically by data link. Later version of Maverick incorporate infra-red or laser seekers, which are particularly effective at night or in conditions with poor visibility.

Possessing greater range, the AGM-84 Harpoon is primarily intended for use against shipping and utilizes active radar homing during the terminal stages of flight. A “fire and forget” weapon, Harpoon is highly resistant to countermeasures, although its greatest disadvantage is that its radar cannot discriminate between “high” and “low” value targets.

Specifications and Performance

Spoiler

Crew: 1 (A) or 2 (B)
Length: 56 ft (17.07 m)
Wingspan:

  • 40.4 ft (12.31 m) w/ missile
  • 38.4 ft (11.7 m) w/o missile
  • 37.5 ft (11.43 m) w/o missile and launcher

Height: 15.3 ft (4.66 m)
Wing area: 400 sq ft (37.17 m²)
Aspect ratio: 3.52
Weights:

  • 21,830 lbs (9,900 kg) empty
  • 51,900 lbs (23,540 kg) maximum takeoff
    Fuel:
  • Internal - 10,860 lb (4,925 kg)
  • External - 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) with 3× FPU-8/A fuel tanks

Powerplant: 2× F404-GE-400

  • 16,000 lbf (71.2 kN) maximum
  • 10,600 lbf (47.2 kN) intermediate

Performance for F404-GE-400 aircrafts:

  • Never exceed speed: Mach 1.8
  • Altitude: 50,000 ft (15,250 m)
  • Climb rate: 50,000 ft/min (254 m/s)
  • Acceleration time: less than 120 seconds from Mach 0.8 to 1.6
  • Lift-off speed: 115 knot (213 km/h)
  • Approaching speed: 140 knot (260 km/h)

Avionics:

  • Radar: Hughes AN/APG-65
  • RWR: AN/ALR-45(V)
  • EO Sensors:
    • AN/AAS-38/38A/38B NITE Hawk
    • AN/ASQ-173 LST/SCAM
  • Countermeasures: 2× AN/ALE-39 (total of 60 cartridges)

Sources

Spoiler

Sources:

  • The F-18 Hornet Strike Fighter brochure, May 1977

  • The Air Forces Book of the F/A-18 Hornet by Tim Senior

  • Northrop - An aeronautical history - Authored by Fred Anderson - Published by Northrop Corporation

  • F/A-18 Hornet in action - Aircraft Number 214 - Squadron/Signal publications - Lou Drendel

  • World Air Power Journal Volume 26 (Autumn/Fall 1996)

  • Specifications post by @Acroute in F/A-18 Hornet (Legacy): History, Performance & Discussion (Sources listed in the said post. Credit to Acroute for listing sources)

Thank you for reading!

12 Likes

+1

2 Likes

+1111 and post A7E. We need to continue that line and as a naval F/A strike aircraft its perfect. As the Corsairs were also light, affordable, naval utlity/strike aircraft. It just makes sense

2 Likes

+1

+1 for the F/A-18A at 12.3 (AIM-7F/Ms and AIM-9L/Ms) and for the CF-188A (AKA CF-18, also AIM-7F/Ms and AIM-9L/Ms) for Britain!

And maybe Spanish EF-18A for Germany…

10 Likes

I said this in the old forum and I’ll repeat it here:
How has this not yet been passed to developers for consideration?

3 Likes

Probably because they already are planning to put it into the game next week. Or next update.

Here’s to hoping, brother.

F/A18 is good at cas and F/A18 is fine at 12.3 and if give amraam f/a18 should go 12.7 or higher

1 Like

Suggestion passed to the developers for consideration.

6 Likes