On 6 April 2012, an F/A-18D of Strike Fighter Squadron 106 (VFA-106) crashed into the center of an apartment complex in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The jet crashed shortly after take-off from Naval Air Station Oceana. Both pilots ejected. One pilot landed into the crash site and sustained injuries requiring hospitalization. The other pilot was not injured. Two of the apartment buildings caught fire after the crash and at least one person on the ground was injured.
The F/A-18 "Hornet" is a supersonic, single seat (A and C models) or tandem seat (B and D models), twin engine, all weather, night, combined fighter and attack aircraft and can be refueled in flight. The F/A-18 multi-mission aircraft can operate from either aircraft carriers or land bases. The F/A-18 fills a variety of roles: air superiority, fighter escort, suppression of enemy air defenses, reconnaissance, forward air control, close and deep air support, and day and night strike missions. The F/A-18 Hornet replaced the F-4 Phantom II fighter and A-7 Corsair II light attack jet, and also replaced the A-6 Intruder as these aircraft were retired during the 1990s.
The combat-proven F/A-18 Hornet is the first tactical aircraft designed from its inception to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The F/A-18, (models A, B, C and D), can deliver conventional air-to-air, air-to-ground decoy expendables, and can carry airborne control pods for various missions. The combination of excellent thrust-to-weight ratio, and maneuverability an unmatched combat capability.
The A and C models have AN/APG-65 radars and the B and D models have AN/APG-73 radars. The AN/APG-65 and AN/APG-73 airborne radars provide excellent long-range, all-weather, lookup and lookdown capability over land or over sea. Communications for all four models include dual UHF/VHF radios, one KY-58 secure radio, and a two-way Link 4 capability. These F/A-18 aircraft also have Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) capabilities for passive detection and ranging. Later model aircraft can actively and specifically interrogate other aircraft identification beacons.
The F/A-18 is in service with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the air forces of Canada, Australia, Spain, Kuwait, Finland, Switzerland, and Malaysia. As of May 1999 Hornet pilots had accumulated more than 3.7 million flight hours and, in the process, are establishing new records daily in safety, reliability, maintainability and mission performance.
A key aspect of the Hornet's popularity with pilots is the ease with which the aircraft can be converted from fighter to strike mode and back again; it's as easy as flipping a switch. During Operation Desert Storm, F/A-18s routinely performed fighter and strike missions on the same sortie. Fulfilling a variety of roles-air superiority, fighter escort, suppression of enemy air defenses, reconnaissance, forward air control, close air support, and day and night strike missions-the F/A-18 has proven to be the most versatile combat aircraft in service.
The Hornet was designed to be reliable and easily maintainable. These factors result in significantly lower operating and maintenance costs for the F/A-18 compared to other U.S. Navy fighter and attack aircraft; and life cycle costs comparable to other modern multi-role aircraft. Survivability is another key feature of the Hornet. The F/A-18 uses a variety of systems and technologies to increase its likelihood of reaching a target undetected, of escaping unhurt if detected, and of returning its crew safely if it is hit.
The F/A-18 has a digital control-by-wire flight control system which provides excellent handling qualities, and allows pilots to learn to fly the airplane with relative ease. At the same time, this system provides exceptional maneuverability and allows the pilot to concentrate on operating the weapons system. A solid thrust-to-weight ratio and superior turn characteristics combined with energy sustainability, enable the F/A-18 to hold its own against any adversary. The power to maintain evasive action is what many pilots consider the Hornet's finest trait. In addition, the F/A-18 was also the Navy's first tactical jet aircraft to incorporate a digital, MUX bus architecture for the entire system's avionics suite. The benefit of this design feature is that the F/A-18 has been relatively easy to upgrade on a regular, affordable basis.
The F/A-18 has proven to be an ideal component of the carrier based tactical aviation equation over nearly two decades of operational experience. The only F/A-18 characteristic found to be marginally adequate by battle group commanders, outside experts, and even the men who fly the Hornet, is its range when flown on certain strike mission profiles. However, the inadequacy is managed well with organic and joint tanking assets.
During the initial hours of Desert Storm, 89 Navy and 72 Marine Corps F/A-18C's conducted both defense suppression and strike missions against Iraqi targets. the Navy Hornets flew 4,449 sorties and the Marine Corps' F/A-18C's flew 4,936 sorties resulting in a combined total of 4,551 strikes against targets during Operation Desert Storm. A total of 174 American Hornets (90 Navy; 84 Marines) participated in the war; 26 Canadian models, known as the CF-18, also participated in Desert Storm. Only three Hornets were lost during the war, one of them in a noncombat accident.
The F/A-18 has been upgraded regularly since entering service in 1983. In November 1989, the first F/A-18s equipped with night strike capability were delivered. Since 1991, F/A-18s have been delivered with F404-GE-402 enhanced performance engines that produce up to 20 percent more thrust than previous F404 engines. The Hornet's two engines deliver about 36,000 pounds combined thrust and a top speed of more than Mach 1.8.
Since May 1994, the Hornet has been equipped with upgraded radar - the APG-73 -, which substantially increases the speed and memory capacity of the radar's processors. In addition, today's Hornets have a laser target designator/ranger, housed within the targeting forward-looking infrared sensor that enables the aircraft to deliver precision laser-guided bombs with pinpoint accuracy.
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