Good afternoon, FighterSweep Fans! This week we are celebrating Milestone Monday on Wednesday, for it was on this day in 1978 when the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet made its first flight!

Originally begun as a program to replace the A-4 Skyhawk and A-7 Corsair II, the Hornet began life as one of the competitors in the Lightweight Fighter (LWF) competition as the YF-17 Cobra. Although the Viper ultimately won that competition, the Navy saw so much potential in the YF-17 that it adopted the basic design as the foundation for its Naval Fighter-Attack, Experimental (VFAX) program.

In order to meet both the Navy and Marine Corps’ structural and range/endurance requirements, the Cobra needed to undergo serious modification and nearly a complete redesign in order to be what the services needed for their sustained maritime flight operations:

Two F/A-18Cs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 fly past NAS North Island during the Centennial of Naval Aviation kick-off in 2011. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

The entire airframe, to include the undercarriage and tailhook, was strengthened to take the pounding of catapult launches and carrier landings.  Folding wings were added to facilitate relative ease of parking and storage on the boat, as well as adding the launch bar for the nosewheel for the cat shots. The main gear was widened, as well as the dorsal spine. The latter was a measure implemented to accommodate an additional 4,460 pounds of fuel.  The vertical and horizontal stabs were enlarged, as were the aircraft’s wings, and the fuselage was widened slightly as well. All in all, the changes made added an additional 10,000 pounds to the design, and it was such a different aircraft that “Model 267” was designated F/A-18 and named “Hornet” in March of 1977.

For more than 35 years, the Hornet has been the backbone of the U.S. Navy’s Strike Fighter capability, as well as the primary air superiority fighter for several foreign nations–Canada, Switzerland, and Finland, to name just a few. With the advent of the Super Hornet, that legacy will continue well into the future, a testament to men and women who designed the original aircraft, as well as those who currently fly and maintain it.

(Featured photo by Jonathan Derden)