Air & Space Airshow Spotter’s Guide

Fun facts about the airplanes you’ll see on the summer circuit.

Boeing F/A-18 Hornet

Boeing F/A-18 Hornet
(Illustrations by Harry Whitver)
How to recognize: Twin vertical tails, canted outward; short, slightly swept (as opposed to straight) wings.

Claim to fame at airshows: In ultra-precise formation flight, U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly so close together that their wing tips come within three feet of one another.

Claim to fame in service: Blue Angels have been performing since 1946 when they began as a three-ship team of Grumman F6F Hellcats, and with each generation have transitioned to the current flagship model flown by the U.S. Navy.

Mission: The F/A-18 Hornet replaced three types of aircraft that retired in the 1990s: the F-4 Phantom II and A-7 Corsair II, as well as the A-6 Intruder. As such, the F/A-18 fills the roles of air superiority, fighter escort, suppression of enemy air defenses, reconnaissance, forward air control, close and deep air support, and day and night strike missions. Operates from either a land base or aircraft carriers.

Performance and specifications: With one or two seats, fighter is powered by twin engines each with up to 22,000-lb thrust, for a combat thrust-to-weight ratio of greater than one. Combat radius is more than 500 nautical miles, and the models E/F can carry more than 17,500 pounds of external ordnance while flying at Mach 1.6 at higher than 36,000 ft. The Blue Angels version can reach Mach 1.7 or 1,200 mph.

Main variants: First F/A-18 models entered service with the US Navy and Marine Corps in 1982 as the F/A-18A/B Hornet, followed by the F/A-18C/D Hornet, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. Each generation has achieved more survivability, better avionics, and more flexible payloads.

Blue Angels

FAS Hornet Page

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