The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 (Fighter/Attack) Hornet is undoubtedly the workhorse of the current US Navy strike and fighter capability. Entering service in early 1979, it had undergone a long gestation from the Northrop YF-17, the loser to the F-16 in the Air Force's Lightweight Fighter (LWF). With Congressional pressure on the Navy to reduce costs, Northrop and General Dynamics were both obliged to partner with a manufacturer with naval contract experience. Northrop ended up teaming with McDonnell Douglas, who having realised that they were behind the curve in terms of a response to current Navy requirements, clearly saw the YF-17 as a potential winner. Initial versions of the F/A-18 looked similar to the YF-17, but were in fact virtually a new airframe, being bigger, stronger, heavier and with a wing fold.
The first generation of Hornets, the A, and B two-seater, set the basic shape and form for the family, characterised by a high thrust to weight ratio, full-span leading-edge slats and plain flaps to the 20-degree swept wing, long Leading Edge Extensions (LEX) to assist in controlling flow into the under-wing intakes and multi-function digital electronics and cockpit instrumentation. In 1987 these versions were quickly improved into the C and D with better avionics, radar and a wider range of weapon compatibility. A specialist version of the two-seat D was developed to incorporate an electro-optical reconnaissance pack fitted in the space normally occupied by the Vulcan cannon and its ammunition. This Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) is used by the US Marine Corps.
Although the first generation ‘legacy’ Hornet's capability was excellent, shortcomings became evident. The type had limited range on internal fuel, which often restricted workload because external tanks were needed. The answer lay in a design evolution using the same basic shape, but creating an airframe around 25% larger, with more powerful GE F414 engines, upgraded avionics suite and three wing hardpoints instead of the legacy's two. Officially named ‘Super Hornet’ it was designated E, and F for the two-seater. The latter also morphed into the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare variant, to replace the Navy's venerable EA-6B Prowler.
Small Hornet in Plastic.
1/144 scale modellers have been reasonably well served with F/A 18 Hornet kits over the last three decades, ranging from the rather basic Shanghai Dragon (DML), Heller, Matchbox, Arii and Micro Ace models through much better Revell offerings in 2003 to 2014, and the multitude of Dragon kits from 2006. Many of these are unavailable now, although they appear regularly through second-hand traders, and it appears that the later Dragon kits of the -E and - F will be re-released by Platz sometime in 2020.
By way of contrast, the kits built here are a very early DML/Italeri F/A 18A, the easily obtainable Revell C, their D model derivative, the Dragon E (boxed with the G) and a Revell G derived from their 2011 E new mould.
The aftermarket has a number of useful replacement or additional parts: Brengun offer a C update with nozzles, a seat, wheels and doors and a vac-formed canopy, there is a vac-formed F two-seater canopy, wheels, and a complex photo-etched set, while Retrokit have a replacement resin cockpit, which can fit either the single or two-seater and JBr have a very nice ATARS reconnaissance conversion for the D.
There are lots of aftermarket decals from Jasmine, MYK, Starfighter and JBr and undoubtedly others I've not listed! Dragon have issued two ‘diorama’ sets with a well-detailed carrier deck, initially with the poor A but later for the 2008 version of the G. Both are well worth snapping up and can be enhanced by Brengun's carrier deck tractor kit, which has two short-bodied MD3 tractors in resin and PE.
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