This Date in Aviation History: November 18 - November 20
ttyymmnn last edited by ttyymmnn
November 18, 1978 – The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. In the 1970s, the US Navy faced a situation where they had an excellent fleet defense fighter in the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, but needed a new multi-role fighter to replace their aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks. However, developing a new fighter to fit their requirements was sure to be an enormously expensive endeavor at a time of congressional pressure to rein in defense spending. In an effort to reduce costs, Grumman offered a stripped down version of the F-14, and McDonnell Douglas suggested a naval variant of their F-15 Eagle. But to modify both aircraft would have cost roughly the same as developing a brand new aircraft. So the Navy turned its attention to the two fighters that had recently competed for the US Air Force Lightweight Fighter (LWF) contract, the General Dynamics YF-16 and the Northrop YF-17.
The unsuccessful Northrop YF-17, top, and the prototype McDonnell Douglas YF-18 below. The most notable difference is the larger dorsal hump for added fuel along with a reshaped nose. (US Air Force; US Navy)
General Dynamics had won the Air Force contract, but the Navy felt that the F-16 would not make a suitable carrier fighter. Its landing gear was too narrow for operations from pitching carrier decks, and the Navy preferred multi-engine aircraft for added safety for long missions over open waters, and the F-16 had just a single engine. Despite having lost the LWF competition, the YF-17 offered features that were appealing to the Navy, and they decided to adopt a carrier-modified version which became the F/A-18 Hornet. Northrop teamed with McDonnell Douglas, who had an extensive history of developing aircraft for the US Navy, and together they worked to make the unsuccessful Air Force fighter suitable for Navy carrier operations.
A US Marine Corps F/A-18C of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 212 (VMFA-212) flies over the South China Sea in 2003 (US Navy)
First, the airframe, undercarriage, and tailhook were all strengthened, the landing gear was widened and given catapult attachments, and folding wingtips were fitted to allow for carrier storage. For long overwater missions, the fuel capacity was increased, giving the F/A-18 its distinctive dorsal hump, and additional fuel storage was added to the wings. The partial fly-by-wire system of the YF-17 was modernized and replaced by a quadruple-redundant, complete fly-by-wire system. And, where the F-14 was primarily an air superiority fighter, the Hornet was planned as a multirole fighter, and was given the prefix F/A to denote its dual role as fighter and ground attack aircraft.
The F/A-18 Hornet has been flown by the US Navy Blue Angels since 1986. The demonstration team will soon receive newer Super Hornets in 2020. (Tim Shaffer)
Production of the F/A-18 began in 1978, and the new fighter entered service with the Navy and Marine Corps in 1983. It wasn’t long before the Hornet began combat operations, taking part in action against Libya as part of Operation Prairie Fire and Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986. When the Navy started phasing out the Grumman A-6 Intruder the 1990s, the Hornet took over the Intruder’s ground attack mission and, as a testament to its truly multirole design, it was not uncommon for Hornets to shoot down Iraqi aircraft and then drop bombs on ground targets during the same mission in the Gulf War of 1990. The Hornet has seen numerous upgrades during its service life, and almost 1,500 have been built for service with the Navy and Marine Corps. McDonnell Douglas found customers in numerous other countries, including 138 CF-18 aircraft built for the Royal Canadian Air Force. McDonnell Douglas used the F/A-18 as the basis for the larger and more advanced Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, but while it bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, the Super Hornet is actually an entirely new aircraft, and not a true variant.
A deck handler directs the pilot of an F/A-18C Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 “Blue Blasters” on the flight deck of the carrier USS Carl Vinson. The Legacy Hornet completed its final (sundown) cruise when Vinson returned to San Diego. (MC2 Sean M. Castellano/US Navy)
Thirty-five years after first entering service with the US Navy, the F/A-18A through F/A-18D models, the so-called Legacy Hornets, have been phased out of US Navy service. In April 2018, F/A-18s of VFA-34 “Blue Blasters” completed their final cruise aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) as the Navy worked to transition completely to the Super Hornet. The US Marine Corps is currently retiring its Legacy Hornets in preparation for transition to the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lighting II. The US Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron, which has been flying some of the oldest Hornets in the fleet, will also transition to the Super Hornet by 2021.
A C-2A Greyhound of fleet logistics support squadron VRC-40 Rawhides photographed in 2009. The A model Greyhound received upgrades to avionics, engines, and a new 8-bladed propeller. (US Navy)
November 18, 1964 – The first flight of the Grumman C-2 Greyhound. To those who shipped or received packages in the days before the Internet, “COD” stood for “Collect On Delivery,” a now-outdated way to send a package and have the recipient pay for the shipping. But to the US Navy, “COD” means “Carrier Onboard Delivery,” and it is a vital means for an aircraft carrier and its battle group to receive mail, spare parts, personnel, or any other critical supplies by air, more quickly than can be done by underway replenishment ships. But in order to provide a useful cargo load, the COD airplane has to be big, because there are restrictions on the size of aircraft that can be operated safely from a carrier deck. In 1963, the Navy experimented with a Lockheed C-130 Hercules landing and taking off from USS Forrestal. While those tests proved that the Herk could carry as much as 85,000 pounds and still land and take off, the Navy decided that it was just too risky and the project was abandoned. It was better to have a purpose-built carrier aircraft perform the task.
A Grumman E-2A Hawkeye, the aircraft that formed the basis for the C-2 Greyhound. The Greyhound had a larger fuselage to accommodate more cargo and fuel, and rear cargo door was added. (US Navy)
Before the arrival of the Greyhound, COD had been carried out by the Grumman C-1 Trader, a variant of the Grumman S-2 Tracker, a piston-powered antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. But limitations in its payload and range meant that a more robust aircraft was needed. So the Navy turned to another large carrier aircraft they already had in their inventory, the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, which was developed as an airborne early warning (AEW) platform. By removing the radome, widening the fuselage and adding a rear cargo door, the Navy found just what it was looking for, and the new aircraft was designated the C-2 Greyhound. The Greyhound’s powerful Allison T56 turboprop engines provide the lifting muscle, and up to 10,000 pounds of cargo and/or passengers can be carried as far 1,500 miles.
A Grumman C-2A Greyhound belonging to Fleet Logistic Squadron (VRC) 30 lands on the flight deck of USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) during Carrier Qualifications in the western Pacific Ocean in 2004 (US Navy)
The C-2 proved to be a true workhorse. Over a two-year span of operations in Europe and the Mediterranean from 1985 to 1986, Greyhounds delivered two million pounds of cargo, two million pounds of precious mail, and 14,000 passengers. Greyhounds also flew during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Gulf War, as well as Operation Enduring Freedom as part of the war in Afghanistan. However, despite its proven capabilities, the Greyhound’s days appear to be numbered. In 2015, the Navy decided on a controversial plan set to begin in 2021 to replace the C-2 with the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey for all future COD missions, in spite of Grumman’s bid to modernize the fleet of Greyhounds. But the Osprey will not be able to carry the same weight of cargo, and it remains to be seen if the V-22 can offer the same stellar operational capabilities as its venerable predecessor.
November 18, 1955 – The first flight of the Bell X-2, a joint project between Bell Aircraft, the US Air Force, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to produce a rocket-powered aircraft that could explore flight characteristics between Mach 2 and Mach 3. Nicknamed Skybuster, a name seldom used officially, the X-2 was carried aloft by a Boeing B-50 Superfortress mother ship, and the two X-2s completed 20 test flights before the program ended in 1956. Aircraft No. 2 was lost along with test pilot Jean “Skip” Ziegler on June 27, 1952 after an inflight explosion while still attached to the B-50. Tests continued with aircraft No. 1 and, September 27, 1956, pilot Milburn G. “Mel” Apt became the first person to exceed Mach 3, but he lost control of the aircraft and was killed in the ensuing crash.
(San Diego Air and Space Museum)
November 18, 1930 – The first flight of the Boeing XP-9, a high-wing monoplane fighter designed to fulfill a request from the US Army. Though only a single prototype was built, the XP-9 was a pioneer in the use of semi-monocoque construction where a portion of the structural load on the aircraft is carried by its outer skin rather than by a rigid internal substructure or external bracing. The construction set the standard for future aircraft design, and design elements on the XP-9 were transferred to the more successful P-12 biplane. But the XP-9 proved to be unstable in flight and, despite modifications, the aircraft was retired after only 15 hours of flight testing.
November 19, 1999 – The launch of Shenzhou 1, the first launch as part of China’s efforts to develop a manned space program. The unmanned Shenzhou 1 was used mainly as a test for the Long March 2F rocket that would lift future missions into space and, as such, the crew capsule was equipped with minimal systems and did not include any life-support equipment for future crews. The Shenzhou 1 completed 14 orbits of the Earth before re-entering the atmosphere and landing in Mongolia. China’s first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, took place on October 15, 2003.
November 19, 1960 – The first flight of the Hawker Siddeley P.1127. Following the development of the Pegasus ducted fan engine by the Bristol Engine Company, Hawker Siddeley decided to use the new engine to create a V/STOL aircraft to fulfill a NATO specification for a light tactical fighter. With funding and technical assistance from the US, six P.1127 prototypes were built. The P.1127 was subsequently developed into the Kestrel FGA and finally the Harrier Jump Jet, which entered service in 1969.
November 20, 1953 – The Douglas Skyrocket exceeds Mach 2. The Skyrocket was a Navy-funded project to construct a jet- and rocket-powered aircraft to explore supersonic flight. The D-588-2 was the second in a planned series of three aircraft that was to culminate in the mockup of an actual fighter, though the final fighter was never built. Douglas built three Skyrockets which combined to fly a total of 313 test missions, and the record-breaking flight by test pilot Scott Crossfield marked the first time that anybody had exceeded Mach 2 in a piloted aircraft. The final mission of the Skyrocket was flown in August of 1956, and the program gathered important data and understanding about stable, controlled flight of swept-wing aircraft at both transonic and supersonic speeds.
If you enjoy these Aviation History posts, please let me know in the comments.
Happy Plastic Bug Day everyone
@ttyymmnn What might have been...
F-17A Export users
Vought V-1600 in USN colors
@skyfire77 I dig that Luftwaffe livery.
I have a book of combat aircraft I got in high school that still shows the F-18 [sic] as just an artist's conception. Then again, the book is 1976 and still shows the B-57 as being active, as well as the A-26.
"...the Navy felt that the F-16 would not make a suitable carrier fighter. Its landing gear was too narrow for operations from pitching carrier decks, and the Navy preferred multi-engine aircraft for added safety for long missions over open waters...
...First, the [F-18] airframe, undercarriage, and tailhook were all strengthened, the landing gear was widened and given catapult attachments, and folding wingtips were fitted..."
So, after massive modification, the Navy had its own new fighter design. The only thing missing on the F-16 that couldn't be modified was the number of engines, which was apparently non-negotiable for the Navy, but then comes...
So yeah. I'm not saying the F-18 shouldn't have been bought. It's a great plane. I'm just laughing at the separation of philosophies between the services and the redundancies it creates.
@skyfire77 but the Navy has F-16s
@skyfire77 but the Navy has F-16s
the Dirt Navy has F-16s
@chariotoflove An interesting observation, one that has not been lost on modern commentators. AFAIK, the last single jet engine fighter to serve in the Navy was the F-8 Crusader. After that, they went to the F-4 and it was all about two engines. I would say that the engine in the F-35C is probably a far sight more reliable than earlier ones, but the point remains.
Interestingly, the F-35 does not have a single steam gauge inside it. If the power goes out, there is a battery that powers the screens just long enough for the pilot to get pointed in the right direction and punch out. Not much help over the Pacific. But this is also what you get when you try to make one fighter for three branches. McNamara couldn't do it, and it remains to be seen how it works out with the F-35.
doodon2whls last edited by
@chariotoflove "Pentagon Wars" but for airborne weapons platforms.
The main proposal was the Model 1600, which was based on the Block 10 F-16. It featured structural strengthening, an arrestor hook, and a more robust undercarriage to accommodate the rigors of carrier launch and recovery operations. The aircraft was to be armed with AIM-7 Sparrow air-air missiles. Launch rails were to be added on the sides of the intakes for AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Given the differences, I'd question if the V-1602B, had it been accepted, would have entered service as an F-16; the DOD may have designated it the F-18 instead.
@ttyymmnn Well, it occurs to me that I've made this point before, and that having done so, I should probably stop so as not to become more annoying.
@skyfire77 Do you know how well it performed in carrier operations, or was that tested? I'm not familiar with this program.
@chariotoflove AFAIK, Vought didn't get any further than illustrations. There's no indication any of the YF-16s were modified or participated in carrier operations tests.