McDonnell Douglas was awarded a contract in May 1975 to build the F-18 for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The specs called for a single-seat, twin-jet fighter and an attack aircraft that could operate from carriers or land base. The first version, the F-18, would escort fighters and defend the fleet. The second, the A-18, would stop ground or sea forces. A two-seat trainer also was planned.
From the beginning the aircraft was designed with 99 percent commonality, and the company was convinced it could perform both jobs. Following first flight in 1978, the aircraft was flown to Patuxent River for testing. Flight tests, aerial weapons tests and carrier trials during the three-year test program proved the value of the design; and the aircraft was officially redesignated the F/A-18 in 1982. The Hornet became the first plane since World War II to be designed as both an air-to-air fighter and an air-to-ground attack aircraft. With a flip of a switch in mid-air, pilots could take on an airborne enemy and proceed to their ground targets without having to drop their bombs.
By March 1980, 11 developmental aircraft were built. The 12th model, the first production Hornet, was delivered to the Navy in April 1980. By then, the Hornet had logged 1,200 hours in 1,000 flights.
The first F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters officially entered U.S. operational service with the Marine Corps VMFA-314 on January 7, 1983 at MCAS El Toro, Calif. The Navy got its first operational F/A-18 squadron in October 1983. In 1989, night strike capability was added to the aircraft and design changes called for enhanced performance engines. The 1,000th Hornet was delivered on April 18, 1991 to the Marine Corps. In 1992, a reconnaissance package was added for the Marine Corps. In 1994, radar was upgraded for the Navy. And in 1995, the larger F/A-18E/F made its development debut. The first production Super Hornet made its first flight on Nov. 6, 1998.
Today, Hornet aircraft have flown more than 3.5 million miles around the clock in any weather.