F/A-18 Hornet: 20th Anniversary of first Flight

The first McDonnell Douglas Hornet made its first flight 20 years ago at 11:04AM on Nov. 18, 1978. Company test pilot, Jack Krings, took the new fighter on a 50-minute flight from St. Louis over Southern Illinois, climbing to 10,000 feet for a series of tests and then up to 24,000 feet for more tests. Top speed was 300 knots.

The full-scale development plane was one of the first aircraft to have a fully digital, all-axis, fly-by-wire control system. Powered by two GE F404 engines, it carried dummy Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles during the first flight. Pilot Krings said the new Hornet, which had just been rolled out on Sept. 13, performed "beyond our expectations."

The Hornet was the first military aircraft since World War II to be designed as a dual mission aircraft, but it flew its first flight designated as a fighter model only -- the F-18A -- while the debate continued over whether the Hornet could also perform as an attack aircraft against ground targets.

For its first flight, Hornet No. 1 bore the markings of both its customers -- Navy on the left side and Marine Corps on the right.

By early December 1978, Hornet No. 1 had gone supersonic and, in less than a year, made its 100th flight on Sept. 18, 1979.