The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet is a supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multirole fighter jet, designed to attack both ground and aerial targets. The F/A-18 Hornet was derived from the YF-17 in the 1970s for use by the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The Hornet is also used by the air forces of several other nations. It has been the aerial demonstration aircraft for the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, since 1986.
The fighter’s primary missions are fighter escort, fleet air defense, suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), air interdiction, close air support and aerial reconnaissance. Its versatility and reliability have proven it to be a valuable carrier asset, though it has been criticized for its lack of range and payload compared to its earlier contemporaries, such as the F-14 Tomcat in the fighter and strike fighter role, and the A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair II in the attack role.
F/A-18 Hornet provided the baseline design for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a larger, evolutionary redesign of the F/A-18. Compared to the Hornet, the Super Hornet is larger, heavier and has improved range and payload capability. The F/A-18E/F was originally proposed as an alternative to a completely new aircraft to replace existing dedicated attack aircraft such as the A-6. The larger variant was also directed to replace the aging F-14 Tomcat, thus serving a complementary role with Hornets in the U.S. Navy, and serving a wider range of roles including refueling tanker, and electronic jamming platform.
Development of the F/A-18 came as a result of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Fighter-Attack, Experimental (VFAX) program to procure a multirole aircraft to replace the A-4 Skyhawk, the A-7 Corsair II, remaining F-4 Phantom IIs and to complement the F-14 Tomcat. Vice Admiral Kent Lee, then head of Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), was the lead advocate for the VFAX against strong opposition from many Navy officers, including Vice Admiral William D. Houser, deputy chief of naval operations for air warfare – the highest ranking naval aviator.