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What You Didn’t Know About The F/A-18 Hornet From The Top Gun: Maverick

The McDonnell Douglas FA/18-Hornet is an aircraft now built by the Boeing aircraft company.

Top Gun: Maverick has been out in cinemas for a few weeks now, and it has earned rave reviews and acclaim since its release. It is easily one of the best films of 2022 thus far and perhaps one of Tom Cruise’s finest movies ever. The film also features the F-14 Tomcat, the original military jet from the first Top Gun movie that became an icon thanks to its starring role in that film. But the new movie has also seen another aircraft take up the main role of starring jet.

Enter the McDonnell Douglas FA/18-Hornet, an aircraft now built by the Boeing aircraft company. The F/A-18 first flew in November 1978 and was first designed as a replacement for the likes of the A-7 Corsair II and F-4 Phantom. And it got its starring role in Top Gun in the form of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet version, but this is all about the original F/A-18 version, the aircraft that would go on to spawn the Super Hornet. What started out initially as the YF-17 Cobra would evolve into one of the most potent and advanced jets the US Navy has ever seen, one that is still in service to this day despite the advent of the F-35B Lightning II.

Origins And Development Of The F/A-18

via Wikipedia

The F/A-18 can trace its origins back to the YF-17 program. This first took flight in June 1974 with two prototypes built, although initially it was set to be a lightweight fighter aircraft for the United States Air Force. It lost out in that program to the F-16, but it was in its enlarged form that it was first adopted by the US Navy and US Marine Corps. The Navy asked Northrop, who built the YF-17, and McDonnell Douglas to develop a new aircraft based upon the YF-17 Cobra.

The aircraft went through drastic changes which saw the airframe, undercarriage, and tailhook all strengthened and folding wings and catapult attachments were then added. The relationship between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas however would sour over Nothrop’s attempts to build the F-18L export version of the aircraft. After several lawsuits, the matter was finally settled, with McDonnell Douglas becoming the prime contractor and Northrop the principal subcontractor for the aircraft. The F-18L program would be dead by mid-1985, and officially terminated in November 1986. Development and production of the F/A-18 could thus continue unabated.

The F/A-18 In Service

via Aerobatic Display Teams

The first F/A-18 was officially rolled out in September 1978, and it would first enter service with the Marine Corps in 1983 and then with the Navy in 1984. The new aircraft had two General Electric F404-GE-402 afterburning turbofans powering it, propelling the Hornet to a top speed of Mach 1.8, or 1,190 mph. And upon entering service, the initial reports regarding the aircraft were quite complimentary. The reliability of the new jet was highly praised, a major step up from the F-4J Phantom it was replacing. The US Navy Blue Angels display team would also switch from the F-4 Skyhawk to the Hornet in 1986.

It wasn’t long before the Hornet saw combat operations as well, taking part in missions against Libyan air defenses during Operation Prairie Fire in April 1986. The aircraft also participated in Operation El Dorado Canyon, an attack on Benghazi. One of the Hornet’s most notable theaters of action was during the 1991 Gulf War. 106 Navy Hornets and 84 Marine Corps Hornets were thus deployed for combat use, and Hornets would shoot down a pair of Iraqi MiG-21 aircraft on the first day of the conflict within 40 seconds of the Iraqi aircraft appearing on radar.

The F/A-18 Hornet Is A Tough Old Bird

via Popular Mechanics

The Hornet was a tough nut too. A Hornet took hits in both engines some 125 miles away from its base, but the pilot managed to get the aircraft back and a few days later it was back in the air. The aircraft would see use in Operation Southern Watch and over Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, as well as during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. And it wasn’t just the American’s using the jet. Various air arms have used the Hornet over the years, such as Canada, Finland, Australia, Switzerland and even Kuwait as well. The US Navy would retire their original Hornets in 2019.

A Lasting Legacy For The F/A-18

via The Aviation Geek Club

The Hornet spawned the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet too, a more advanced and larger version of the original Hornet that first flew in November 1995. This is the primary version of the aircraft still in service today, and the one we see in Top Gun: Maverick. While it is still within the same family, it is very much a development of that original F/A-18 Hornet, and continues the success that the first version of the aircraft has had. And no doubt they will carry on the legacy of the F/A-18 for years to come.

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