Northrop, having failed to win in the big Buy Of The Century competition with the F-16, was lucky when the US Navy expressed an interest in a new fighter, and liked the twin engine layout that the land pounders felt was overkill in the lightweight part of the fighter equation. Teaming with Mcdonnell-Douglas, Northrop started the F-18 program. The F-18 became a ‘cause-célèbre’ as its development became an exercise in creating an entirely new aircraft. The F-18 ended up being about 10-15% larger all around than the YF-17. Introduced into Naval operations it was immediately liked, except for minor details like: lack of power and lack of fuel range. These were addressed by the latest mark, the F/A-18 E/F model which is essentially an entirely new aircraft, sharing little but name with the A/B models that preceeded it. The Super Hornet, as the new aircraft is known, is about another 20% larger all round than the little Hornet.
The Navy has used the Hornet's dog fight capability to replace some of the aging F-14's roles. The F/A-18 E/F should get to handling most of the omissions (except the extremely long range shoot down that the Phoenix gave the F-14).
The US Marine corps also uses the Hornet as do the Canadian's (CF-18) and Spanish.
The Navy has in recent years decided to double name their fighters, the F-18 was renamed the F/A-18 to indicate that it had a substantial ground attack role, one it could do simultaneously with its air-to-air role. We may see similar naming on the F-22 and F-35 in the future.
The F-18 will enter Navy and Marine service soon in a new role as the F-18G Growler, a replacement for the aging but capable EA-6B Prowler.
Time catches up with us, the Navy has decided to review its former policy of naming and now the F/A-18 has once more become simply the F-18.
US Marine Corp F-18A, S-J AFB Open Day '90.
US Navy F-18D, NJ Wings and Wheels, Sept 2004.
Prototype YF-17 at the 1976 Farnborough International Airshow.
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