Defence Policy,
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In Detail
CF18 Hornet


by Allan Ng
M.Eng., P.Eng.


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Canadian Defence Procurement  –  November 2003

The CF18 Hornet fighter aircraft  –  In Detail    (Part 4)

Allan Ng examines the evolution and development of the CF's fighter

Welcome to Canada ... have you anything to declare?

The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet was chosen by Canada as the winner of the New Fighter Aircraft competition in 1980.  Officially designated the CF188 in Canadian service, the Hornet was quickly dubbed CF18 (to match the US system of designation). The order included 98 single-seat CF18A and 40 dual-seat CF18B totalling 138 aircraft in all.  Reportedly,  this high percentage of  twin-seaters was meant to off-set greater anticipated levels of attrition in the training variant. Such fears have not been borne out by CF operational experience, however.

Canada's air force chose their CF18 for many of the same reasons given by the United States Navy. Some of the key capabilities were twin engine reliability – considered essential for flying over water and the high Arctic – and the excellent radar set.  While these features were also available in some of the other contenders such as the F-14 and F-15, the chosen CF18 also had a very significant cost advantage.

The differences between the CF18 and US F/A-18s included a search light on the left-hand fuselage side (to aid CF pilots in night-time identification of intercepted aircraft) and a painted-on false canopy on the underside of the fuselage intended to disorient an enemy in air-to-air combat. Significantly, many naval features were retained from the F/A-18 including the arrestor hook, the robust landing gear, and the wing-folding mechanisms.  These features proved to be advantageous when operating the new CF18s from smaller airfields, especially in the Arctic.

Some words from the professor ...

The CF18 is powered by two General Electric F404-GE-400 turbofan engines each producing 10,600 lbs of thrust in military thrust (the maximum thrust without use of afterburning) and 16,000 lbs in full afterburner. The aircraft weighs 21,830 lbs empty and 35,800 lbs at take-off.[1]  The Hornet measures 56 feet (17m) in length and 15.29 feet (4.66m) high. It has a wing span of 37.5 feet (11.43m) and wing area of 400 square feet (37.17m2). The aircraft's maximum speed is Mach 1.8 and it has a manoeuver ceiling of 49,000 ft (14,935m). The unrefuelled combat radius for the CF18 is 461 miles (741 km).  But what do all of these numbers mean? ...

[1]  Aircraft weights and engine thrusts are expressed as pounds here to simplify illustration.  How many among us can work in Newtons and kilograms anyway?

<   Part 3  —  the 1978 CF New Fighter Aircraft competion
>   Part 5  —  Thrust, Weight, and Why They Matter