McDonnell Douglas/Northrop F-18 Hornet and Cobra

F-18, TF-18 and F-18L

Origin: Original basic design, Northrop Corp: prime contractor, McDonnell Douglas Corp, USA, with Northrop building centre and aft fuselage.

Type: (F) single-seat carrier-based multi-role fighter, (TF) dual trainer, (A) single-seat land-based attack fighter.

Engines: Two 16,0001b (7257kg) thrust General Electric F404-400 two – shaft augmented turbofans.

Dimensions: Span (with missiles) 40ft 8Jin (12 41m), (without missiles) 37ft 6in (11 -42m): length 56ft (17-07m); height 14ft 9Jin (4-50m). Weights: (Provisional) empty 20,583lb (9336kg): loaded (clean) 33.642lb (15,260kg): maximum loaded (catapult limit) 50,064lb (22,710kg). Performance: Maximum speed (clean, at altitude) 1,190mph (1915km/h. Mach 1 -8), (maximum weight, sea level) subsonic: sustained combat manoeuvre ceiling, over 49,000ft (14,935m): absolute ceiling, over 60,000ft (18,290m): combat radius (air-to-air mission, high, no external fuel) 461 miles (741km): ferry range, not less than 2,300 miles (3700km).

Armament: One 20mm M61 Gatling in upper part of forward fuselage: nine external weapon stations for maximum load (catapult launch) of 13,4001b (6080kg), including bombs, sensor pods, ECM, missiles (including Sparrow) and other stores, with tip-mounted Sidewinders.

History: First flight (YF-17) 9 June 1974: (first of 11 test F-18) 18 November 1978: (production F-18) probably late 1980: service entry, planned for 1 982.

User: USA (Navy, Marine Corps).

Development: In 1 971 the US Navy became concerned at the cost of the F-14 and the resulting reduced rate of procurement and total number that could be afforded. In 1973 it studied low-cost versions and compared them with navalised F-15 versions and improved F-4s. In 1 974 the VFX specifica­tion emerged for a wholly new and smaller fighter somewhat along the lines of the Air Force Air Combat Fighter. In May 1975 the Navy and Marine Corps announced their choice of the F-18, developed from the existing land-based Northrop F-17 by McDonnell Douglas and Northrop. In fact the F-18 will be almost twice as heavy as the original F-17 proposal but, with more powerful engines, is expected to have adequate dogfight per­formance through the 1980s. Features include an unswept wing with large dogteeth and forebody strakes at the roots, twin canted vertical tails, simple

Below: Takeoff by the first YF-18 Hornet prototype on 18 November 1978. All 11 flight-test aircraft had flown by 1980 and both land-based and early carrier trials were said to be promising.

McDonnell Douglas/Northrop F-18 Hornet and Cobra

McDonnell Douglas/Northrop F-18 Hornet and Cobra

Above: Three-view of F-18 Hornet.

fixed engine inlets and extensive graphite/epoxy structure. Search radar will be used in the interception and surface-attack roles, and a very wide range of weapons will be carried. In the Navy air-superiority mission the gun will be backed up by two Sparrows and two Sidewinders, and the F-18 is expected to show dramatic improvements over the F-4J in manoeuvrability, reliability and low cost. In Marine attack missions the maximum load can be 14,0001b for airfield operation, and the inertial guidance and weapon­aiming are expected to offer a significant advance over the accuracy of any A-7. The Navy/Marines plan to buy 11 development aircraft plus 1,366 production machines during the 1980s, the original target price being about $5-9 millidn in 1975 dollars. Originally the Marine Corps version was to be designated A-18, because of its different mission equipment but it was later decided not to produce a dedicated attack version. Instead the Marine F-18 will replace the two Sparrow (or AMRAAM) missiles by a laser spot-tracker on one pylon and a forward-looking infra-red pod on the other. About one aircraft in every 13 will be a dual-control TF-18, with less internal fuel and no head-up display. In addition an RF-18 version has been proposed as a Fleet reconnaissance machine to replace the RF-8G and RA-5C, with a nose basically similar to that of the RF-5E.

In late 1 976 Northrop — original designer of the YF-17 but a mere sub­contractor on the F-18 – was trying to relaunch the land-based Cobra, but now as a modified F-18. Despite severe competition from the F-16 and other aircraft. Northrop aims to find worldwide sales for the Cobra replacing the F-4, F-104, A-7 and Mirage. It would have less internal fuel than the F-18, and thus even higher performance. Planned export delivery date is 1983, priced at $8 million in 1975 dollars. This simplified land-based machine is designated F-18L, and is not normally named Plornet. Northrop is prime contractor for this project, which in late 1 979 was being considered by Australia, Canada, Israel and Turkey, among other possible customers.

McDonnell Douglas/Northrop F-18 Hornet and Cobra

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