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    F/A-18 Hornet: From Controversial Beginnings to Naval Dominance

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    Born from a near-scrap prototype to becoming the aviation spine of the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18 Hornet has served over four decades as a cornerstone of American naval aviation. The remarkable journey of this combat-proven aircraft underscores its vital role in maintaining naval supremacy and its anticipated operational presence into the 2040s.

    Sailor signals to launch an F/A-18F Super Hornet from the flight deck of USS Harry S. Truman.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The F/A-18 Hornet’s origin lies with the YF-17 prototype, which was initially passed over by the Air Force but caught the interest of the Navy due to its speed, advanced technology, and agility.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to VFA-192 launches from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the philippine Sea.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Northrop, in partnership with McDonnell Douglas, repurposed the YF-17 into the twin-engine, carrier-capable jet known today as the F/A-18 Hornet.

    A French Rafale F-3R, right, flies alongside an F/A-18E Super Hornet over the Mediterranean Sea.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    “The selection of the F/A-18 Hornet was the culmination of a rigorous evaluation process, underscoring its superior design, versatility, and adaptability,” highlighted by the development journey that transformed the YF-17 Cobra into the multifaceted F-18.

    F/A-18E Super Hornets attached to the Royal Maces of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27 prepare for launch aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in the Philippine Sea.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    One of the Hornet’s most praised attributes is its maintenance profile. It boasts a mean time between failures three times longer than any other strike aircraft in the Navy’s arsenal.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the “Fighting Checkmates” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 211, flies alongside an Italian marine F-35 Lightning II and an AV-8B II+ Harrier in support of NATO-led activity Neptune Shield 22.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    These low maintenance needs, combined with its ability to seamlessly switch between attack or fighter modes, have cemented the Hornet’s reputation for reliability and flexibility.

    U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets and Italian navy AV-8B Harrier II aircraft fly over the Mediterranean Sea.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Hornet has repeatedly proven its combat effectiveness, starting with operations against Libyan air defenses and continuing through various conflicts.

    U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform a dramatic maneuver with their F/A-18 Hornets during the 2016 Marine Corps Air Station .” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Its enhanced variant, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, has taken on a significant role in today’s naval operations, with notable action against Iranian-backed Houthis in the Middle East.

    U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets and Greek F-16 Fighting Falcons train during Neptune Strike 2022.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    On January 9, the power of the Super Hornet was on full display as part of a combined effort that “shot down eighteen OWA UAVs, two anti-ship cruise missiles, and one anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen into the Southern Red Sea,” according to a CENTCOM statement.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the “Fighting Checkmates” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 211, flies alongside an Italian marine F-35 Lightning II and an AV-8B II+ Harrier in support of NATO-led activity Neptune Shield 22.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    These actions safeguarded dozens of merchant vessels transiting international shipping lanes, highlighting the Super Hornet’s continued strategic importance.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the “Fighting Checkmates” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 211, flies alongside an Italian marine F-35 Lightning II and an AV-8B II+ Harrier in support of NATO-led activity Neptune Shield 22.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Super Hornet’s success has led to the U.S. Navy’s recent $1.3 billion contract with Boeing for 17 Block III variants, ensuring that this aircraft remains a pillar of the carrier air wing.

    An F/A-18F Super Hornet lands on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) flight deck during flight operations.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The contract also secures a technical data package essential for the platform’s future sustainability.

    F/A-18F Super Hornet lands aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 77)” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    As Rear Admiral John Lemmon notes, “The Super Hornet remains a predominant aircraft in the carrier air wing and will continue to provide significant combat capability into the 2040s.”

    An F/A-18F Super Hornet performs a touch-and-go on the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Though the F/A-18 has retired from some services, it remains active with the Marine Corps and several international forces, demonstrating its enduring value.

    An F/A-18F Super Hornet approaches USS Gerald R. Ford.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Delivery of the aircraft is expected in winter 2026, with final delivery no later than spring 2027, the Navy said.

    Relevant articles:
    The F/A-18 Hornet Is the ‘Aviation Spine’ of U.S. Navy Aircraft Carriers, The National Interest
    The F/A-18 Hornet Is One Remarkable Aircraft Carrier Fighter Jet, The National Interest
    U.S. Navy Signs Deal with Boeing for 17 F/A-18 Super Hornets, FLYING Magazine

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