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

Gee Whiz!

Why F/A-18?

The Hornet is designated F/A-18 because it is designed to be both an air-to-air (F - fighter) aircraft and an air-to-ground (A - attack) aircraft. With the flip of a switch, a pilot can change the mission of the Hornet to fight against airborne enemy aircraft or ground units.

Was it Navy or Marines?

Depending on where you stood to watch the first flight 20 years ago, you might have thought you were looking at two different aircraft. Hornet No. 1 bore the markings of both its customers -- the Navy and the Marine Corps. If you looked at the right side of the aircraft, it said Marines; but if you stood on the left, the Hornet bore the Navy name.

Which end is up?

Canadian CF-18 aircraft have a false canopy painted on the underside of the fuselage, directly opposite the actual canopy. The paint job is intended to confuse enemy aircraft during air-to-air combat.

What's in a name?

When McDonnell Douglas and Boeing merged in 1997 to become the Boeing company, it posed a challenge for the Navy's flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, which fly F/A-18 Hornets. At the time, the aircraft were emblazoned with the McDonnell Douglas name. It was more than advertising, it was a key safety tool for the aerobats. Blue Angels pilots used the lettering to line up their aircraft during formation flying. Keeping the leading edge of a wing lined up with the correct letter on an opposite aircraft, for example, allowed flight team members to keep the right distance, elevation and separation during tight formation maneuvers. When it came time to substitute the shorter word, "Boeing," the Blue Angels had to determine exactly what dimensions would work for the new lettering and exactly where the new decal would be placed on the aircraft so that the aerobatic flight team could continue to fly safely.

When is a Hornet not a Hornet?

In bilingual Canada. The French translation of "Hornet" is Frelon, which is already assigned to a French-built Aerospatiale helicopter. So in Canada, the F/A-18 aircraft is simply called the CF-18 (single-seat) or the CF-18B (two-seat).