First Marine Helicopter Pilot

Who was the First Marine Helicopter Pilot?

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired


Marine Corps Historical Center Photo Collection LtCol Armond H. DeLalio, recipient of the Navy Cross for heroism as a pilot with Marine Scout-Bomber Squadron 241 during the battle of Midway and a Marine Corps helicopter pioneer, was honored in 1965 when an elementary school at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was dedicated in his name.

There is some dispute about who the first Marine Corps helicopter pilot actually was. According to Marine lore that honor goes to fighter ace and famed test pilot Marion E. Carl, but the official records of the naval service identify Major Armond H. DeLalio as Marine helicopter pilot number one, and Marion Carl himself proclaimed that Desmond E. Canavan was probably the first Marine to fly a helicopter.

According to the Marine Corps’ official history, Marines and Helicopters, 1962-1973, “Major General Marion E. Carl is generally credited with being the first Marine to learn how to fly a helicopter in July 1945 [but] it was not until some years later that he was officially designated [as such].” In his autobiography, Pushing The Envelope (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994), Carl relates that he learned how to fly a Sikorsky HNS (R-4) while a test pilot stationed at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland. He was given about three hours of instruction before he soloed. In that same memoir, however, he states that fellow Marine Desmond Canavan was flying helicopters in late 1944. Carl’s claim that he was helicopter pilot number one rests upon the fact that he was the first Marine to log the 40 hours required for certification even though he never applied for such certification. Neither Carl nor Canovan appear on the naval service helicopter pilot certification list prior to June 1950.

Marine Corps Historian Lynn Montross, the recognized authority on early Marine helicopter operations, lists Navy Cross holder Armond DeLalio as having flown U.S. Navy helicopters at New York’s Floyd Bennett Field then under the auspices of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1944. He is officially recognized as the first Marine certified as a helicopter pilot, achieving that honor on 8 August 1946. DeLalio was the operations officer for Navy helicopter squadron VX-3 at that time. He was killed during a test flight in 1952 when a rocket-assisted takeoff pod malfunctioned causing his HRS helicopter to catch fire and then crash.

The Navy register of early helicopter pilots lists 250 qualifiers prior to the onset of the Korean War in June 1950; 33 are Marines, including three enlisted naval aviation pilots (the famous “Flying Sergeants” of the Marine Corps).

While who should be recognized as the true “Gray Eagle” of Marine helicopter aviation remains murky, there is little doubt about the specific incident that started the Marine Corps helicopter program. That event occurred at Quantico, Virginia, in 1946 and was described by helicopter pioneer Edward C. Dyer:

One day Marion Carl, a test pilot at Patuxent, flew a helicopter to Marine Corps Schools to demonstrate it to the students. . . . He hoisted [Lieutenant Colonel Victor H.] Brute Krulak . . . about 15 feet [off the ground] and pulled him into the cockpit. [Lieutenant Colonel Merrill B.] Twining and I were standing by the window and watching and I said ‘Bill, let’s . . . quit fooling around.’ He said ‘OK! . . . He wrote the theory . . . principles . . . background . . . reasoning . . . and I wrote [an implementation] program.”

Marion Carl recalled that he specifically selected Lieutenant Colonel Krulak because his small stature and lightweight could be accommodated by the limited room and lift capability of his HOS-1 helicopter. Krulak thereafter became a helicopter devotee.

U.S. Naval Aviation Designations

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired

During the Korean conflict, the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics used designation systems that conveyed a lot of information about its squadrons and aircraft in a concise manner.

Squadron Designations:

The Bureau recognized three aircraft squadron types: lighter than air (Z); heavier than air (V); and helicopter (H). In addition, Marine aircraft squadrons were identified by the insertion of the letter “M” between the aircraft type and the squadron function. In general, a three letter prefix followed by up to three numbers was used to identify individual Marine aircraft squadrons. The first letter (a “V” or “H”) identified the primary aircraft type used by the squadron, the second letter (“M”) identified it as a Marine aviation unit, and the third (“O” indicating observation and “R” for transportation) identified the squadron’s primary mission; the numbers in the suffix sometimes identified the squadron’s unit affiliation and always noted its precedence order.

Thus, VMO-6 was the sixth heavier-than-air Marine observation squadron formed. The single digit indicated that the squadron was not specifically affiliated with a particular aircraft wing (observation squadrons were attached to ground units). On the other hand, HMR-161 was the first Marine helicopter transport squadron assigned to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (the first “1” indicating initial assignment to the wing, numbers above “6” were used for non-fixed wing aircraft, and the last “1” signifying it was the first squadron formed).

Aircraft Designations:

Individual aircraft designations used a similar identification system. The Bureau of Aeronautics gave each naval aircraft a mixed letter and number designation. Except for experimental or prototype helicopters, the first letter was an “H” indicating rotary-wing status; the second letter indicated its primary purpose (“O” for observation, “R” for transport, or “T” for trainer); a number (except in the case of the first model) indicated the manufacturer’s sequence for producing that specific aircraft type; the next letter identified the manufacturer (“L” for Bell, “P” for Piasecki, or “S” for Sikorsky); and the number following a dash indicated a sequential modification of that aircraft model.

Thus, the HO3S-1 was Sikorsky Aircraft’s third model observation helicopter with one modification; the HRP was Piasecki’s first transport helicopter; the HTL-4 was the fourth modification to Bell Aircraft’s original trainer helicopter; the HO5S was Sikorsky’s fifth observation model; and the HRS-1 was Sikorsky’s first transport helicopter.

The Bureau’s system was a good one that remained in use for four decades, but there were a few problems. First, aircraft were often used for roles other than those assigned. For example, the HO3S-1 was actually a utility aircraft that during field service performed many tasks other than observation, a task that actually became a seldom-used secondary mission in Korea. Second, the proliferation of missions and manufacturers as time passed led to confusing duplication of letters (“T” was variously used to indicated torpedo, trainer, and transport aircraft). Third, lack of inter-Service consistency produced confusion (the Navy HO3S-1 was an H-5F to the Air Force and Army). The naval aircraft designation system was replaced by a joint aircraft designation system in 1962, but the Bureau’s squadron designation system remains in effect.

Sikorsky HRS Marine Helicopter

Sikorsky HRS-1

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired


The HRS transport helicopter was the military version of the Sikorsky S-55 commercial aircraft. It featured the familiar Sikorsky design signatures, a single overhead main rotor and a small anti-torque rotor on the tail boom. Although many of its components were simply enlarged versions of similar ones found in the HO3S, the HRS did not look much like the Marines’ earliest observation helicopter. It was much larger, its cargo space included seats for eight passengers, the two-seat cockpit was located high on the fuselage and set farther back than the HO3S, and the engine was mounted low on the front of the aircraft rather than high amidships. Although initially selected as only an interim model until a larger heavy-lift helicopter became available, the Navy Department eventually purchased 235 variants of the S-55. The U.S. Army and Air Force flew similar models as H-19s, and the Coast Guard variant was the HO4S-3G.

The Marine Corps turned to the Sikorsky S-55 after its first choice, the Piasecki H-16, outgrew the ability to operate from small escort carriers—foreseen as the transport helicopter’s primary mission. The Navy was already looking at one version of the S-55; an antisubmarine variant designated the HO4S. There was no obvious external difference between the HRS and the HO4S. This was because the main difference was each respective aircraft’s mission. The Marine transport helicopter did away with mine detection equipment but mounted troop seats and had self-sealing fuel tanks. The most innovative feature of the S-55 was its engine placement. It was set low in the helicopter’s nose. A drive shaft ran up through the back of the cockpit to provide power to the three-bladed overhead main rotor. The engine placement made it easy to reach, cutting maintenance time. That configuration also eliminated critical center-of-gravity problems that plagued both the HO3S and the HTL. The HRS also mounted a drop hook to carry external loads under the cabin. The main shortfalls of the HRS were that the machine was underpowered and mechanical failures required them to be grounded on several occasions. No Marine HRSs were lost to enemy fire, but several crashed while hovering and at least two went down in mid-air due to engine failure.

The HRS was a great step forward, but it was not the transport helicopter Marine planners envisioned. They wanted an aircraft that could carry 15 or more men to ensure unit integrity during assaults and generating enough lift to carry most division equipment. The main problem with the HRS was lifting power. Although rated for eight passengers, in the harsh reality of the Korean mountains the HRS could only carry about six men—only four if they were fully combat loaded. Both Igor Sikorsky and Frank Piasecki worked feverishly to deliver a more capable aircraft, but that advance would have to wait until the development of a practical turbine helicopter engine.

The first batch of Marine HRS-1s included 60 machines and the second order of HRS-2s mustered 91, the final version (HRS-3) included 89 more. Only the first two variants saw action in Korea, but some HRS-3s were still in the Marine inventory when their designation was changed to the CH-19E in accordance with the Department of Defense unified designation system in 1962.


Aircraft Data:

Manufacturer: Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Aircraft Corporation

Type: Transport helicopter

Accommodation: Ten-places (two crew and eight passengers)

Power Plant: One 600 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340-57

Cruising speed: 80 mph

Payload: 1,050 pounds


Bell HTL

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired


Thanks to the opening credits of the long-running television series “M*A*S*H,” a helicopter delivering wounded men to a field hospital remains one of the most enduring images of the Korean conflict. The aircraft featured on that show was a Bell Model-47, the same type flown by the Marines under the designation HTL and by the Army and Air Force as the H-13.

The Model-47 first flew in 1946, was granted the first ever U.S. commercial helicopter license in 1947, and remained in production for almost 30 years. Military versions saw extensive service in both Korea and Vietnam, and several generations of naval aviation helicopter pilots learned to fly using HTLs. Early model HTL-2 trainers used at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, mounted wheels instead of skids and were covered in fabric when the first Marine trainees learned to fly rotary-wing aircraft. The Chief of Naval Operations designated the HTL as the prospective observation helicopter in 1949. The press of combat operations in Korea, particularly the need for a more suitable aerial medical evacuation platform than the HO3S, led to a massive influx of HTL-4s to Marine Observation Squadron 6 at the end of 1950.

The unique technical feature of all Bell helicopters was a two-bladed rotor and stabilizer system that reduced flying weight without harming performance, and the unique visual feature of the HTL was its clear Plexiglas “goldfish bowl” cabin canopy that allowed all-round vision. The HTL-4’s squat configuration and skids allowed it to land in rough terrain while the inclusion of two exterior stretcher pods made it the preferred aircraft for field evacuations of seriously wounded men. Unfortunately, it had an unreliable engine and a notoriously weak electrical system that together required inordinate maintenance time while its limited fuel supply severely reduced the helicopter’s combat radius.

Several generations of naval aviators learned to fly using HTL trainers, and the Bureau of Aeronautics eventually purchased more than 200 HTLs, the last of which were still regularly flying more than two decades after the first one took to the air. Advanced versions of the HTL developed into the UH-1 Huey and AH-1 Cobra, the utility and attack helicopters that arm today’s Fleet Marine Forces.


Aircraft Data

Manufacturer: Bell Aircraft Company

Power Plant: 200 hp Franklin O-335-5

Dimensions: Length, 41’5”; height, 9’ 2”; rotor, 35’ two blade with stabilizer

Performance: Cruising speed, 60 mph; ceiling, range, 150 miles

Lift: Pilot plus two passengers or two externally mounted stretchers

VMO-6 Historical Diary Photo Supplement, Nov52



Sikorsky HO5S Marine Helicopter

Sikorsky HO5S

SiBy Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired


The HO5S helicopter, developed from Sikorsky’s S-52 design begun in 1948, was the purpose-built replacement observation helicopter for the HO3S. The S-52 was first conceived as a compact two place machine, but it eventually incorporated recommendations from the fighting front under the designation S-52-2. The HO5S was more compact than its predecessor and featured several new design features to overcome technical problems identified in the HO3S. Forty-eight HO5S-1s were ordered for the Marine Corps in 1951 and accession began in January 1952.

Although its theoretical performance statistics appear only marginally better than its predecessor, the HO5S was actually a much-improved aircraft that addressed many of the HO3S’s shortcomings. The HO5S was the first U.S. helicopter fitted with all-metal blades, could mount two stretchers internally, and was much more stable on the ground due to its low center of gravity and four-wheel landing gear. The most unique practical innovation was a hinged, two-piece, forward-mounted observation bubble. Opening the left seat side of the bubble allowed access to the cabin interior for two stretcher-borne patients. In addition, the HO5S could carry three combat-loaded men over short distances.

By the time of the armistice in 1953, almost all VMO-6 helicopters were HO5Ss. Unfortunately, plans to replace light airplanes with HO5S helicopters in Marine observation squadrons had to be put on hold due to performance problems and structural defects that came to the fore in Korea. It was decided that the Marine Corps needed a machine that offered better stability and easier inflight control in addition to a more powerful engine. Thus, instead of becoming the backbone of Marine observation squadrons, the HO5S was actually replaced by the Kaman HOK beginning in 1954; the later aircraft remained in operational service for the next decade until was it in turn replaced by the Bell UH-1 Iroquois (“Huey”), which remains the designated Marine observation and utility helicopter to this day. Marine observation squadrons were equipped with fixed-wing airplanes after light helicopter squadrons were created during the Vietnam-era.


Aircraft Data:

Manufacturer: Sikorsky Division of United Aircraft Corporation

Power Plant: 245 hp Franklin O-425-1 engine

Dimensions: Length, 27’ 5”; height, 8’8”; rotor, three 33’ metal blades

Performance: Cruising speed, 96 mph

Lift: Pilot and three passengers or two internal stretchers

McDonnell Douglas FA-18 Hornet
14 NOVEMBER 2013

McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet

FA-18 Hornet at Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum

The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum is proud to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the F/A-18 Hornet. Below is a snapshot of the aircraft and its significance throughout history:

F/A-18 Indoor Display for 35th AnniversaryThe McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multi-role combat jet, designed to dogfight and attack ground targets (F/A designation for Fighter/Attack). Designed by McDonnell Douglas and Northrop, the F/A-18 was derived from the latter's YF-17 in the 1970s for use by the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The Hornet is also used by the air forces of several other nations. The U.S. Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels has used the Hornet since 1986.

The F/A-18 has a top speed of Mach 1.8. It can carry a wide variety of bombs and missiles, including air-to-air and air-to-ground, supplemented by the 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon. It is powered by two General Electric F404 turbofan engines, which give the aircraft a high thrust-to-weight ratio. The F/A-18 has excellent aerodynamic characteristics, primarily attributed to its leading edge extensions (LEX). The fighter's primary missions are fighter escort, fleet air defense, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), air interdiction, close air support and aerial reconnaissance. Its versatility and reliability have proven it to be a valuable carrier asset, though it has been criticized for its lack of range and payload compared to its earlier contemporaries, such as the Grumman F-14 Tomcat in the fighter and strike fighter role, and the Grumman A-6 Intruder and LTV A-7 Corsair II in the attack role.

The F/A-18 Hornet provided the baseline design for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a larger, evolutionary redesign of the F/A-18. Compared to the Hornet, the Super Hornet is larger, is heavier, and has improved range and payload. The F/A-18E/F was originally proposed as an alternative to an all-new aircraft to replace existing dedicated attack aircraft such as the A-6. The larger variant was also directed to replace the aging F-14 Tomcat, thus serving a complementary role with Hornets in the U.S. Navy, and serving a wider range of roles including refueling tanker. The Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic jamming platform was also developed from the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Entry into service

Jet aircraft departing aircraft carrier. A gray-overall aircraft, with blue and yellow fins, has just left the edge of carrier's runway, as evident through the extended landing gear.

F/A 18 Hornets on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)

McDonnell Douglas rolled out the first F/A-18A on 13 September 1978, in blue-on-white colors marked with "Navy" on the left and "Marines" on the right. Its first flight was on 18 November. In a break with tradition, the Navy pioneered the "principal site concept" with the F/A-18, where almost all testing was done at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, instead of near the site of manufacture, and using Navy and Marine Corps test pilots instead of civilians early in development. In March 1979, Lt. Cdr. John Padgett became the first Navy pilot to fly the F/A-18.

Following trials and operational testing by VX-4 and VX-5, Hornets began to fill the Fleet Replacement Squadrons (FRS) VFA-125, VFA-106, and VMFAT-101, where pilots are introduced to the F/A-18. The Hornet entered operational service with Marine Corps squadron VMFA-314 at MCAS El Toro on 7 January 1983,and with Navy squadron VFA-25 in March 1983, replacing F-4s and A-7Es, respectively.

The initial fleet reports were complimentary, indicating that the Hornet was extraordinarily reliable, a major change from its predecessor, the F-4J. Other squadrons that switched to F/A-18 are VFA-146 "Blue diamonds", and VFA-147 "Argonauts". In January 1985, the VFA-131 "Wildcats" and the VFA-132 "Privateers" moved from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California to Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida, and became the Atlantic Fleet's first F/A-18 squadrons.

The Blue Angels' No. 6 F/A-18A

The US Navy's Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron switched to the F/A-18 Hornet in 1986, when it replaced the A-4 Skyhawk. The Blue Angels perform in F/A-18A and B models at air shows and other special events across the US and worldwide. Blue Angels pilots must have 1,350 hours and an aircraft carrier certification. The two-seat B model is typically used to give rides to VIPs, but can also fill in for other aircraft in the squadron in a normal show, if the need arises.

Combat operations

The F/A-18 first saw combat action in April 1986, when VFA-131, VFA-132, VMFA-314, and VMFA-323 Hornets from USS Coral Sea flew SEAD missions against Libyan air defenses during Operation Prairie Fire and an attack on Benghazi as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon.

During the Gulf War of 1991, the Navy deployed 106 F/A-18A/C Hornets and Marine Corps deployed 84 F/A-18A/C/D Hornets. F/A-18 pilots were credited with two kills during the Gulf War, both MiG-21s. On 17 January, the first day of the war, U.S. Navy pilots Lieutenant Commander Mark I. Fox and his wingman, Lieutenant Nick Mongilio were sent from the USS Saratoga in the Red Sea to bomb an airfield in southwestern Iraq. While en route, they were warned by an E-2C of approaching MiG-21 aircraft. The Hornets shot down the two MiGs with AIM-7 and AIM-9 missiles in a brief dogfight. The F/A-18s, each carrying four 2,000 lb (910 kg) bombs, then resumed their bombing run before returning to Saratoga.

The Hornet's survivability was demonstrated when a Hornet took hits in both engines and flew 125 mi (201 km) back to base. It was repaired and flying within a few days. F/A-18s flew 4,551 sorties with 10 Hornets damaged including two losses. The two losses were U.S. Navy F/A-18s and their pilots were lost. On 17 January 1991, Lieutenant Commander Scott Speicher of VFA-81 was shot down and killed in the crash of his aircraft. The other F/A-18, piloted by Lieutenant Robert Dwyer was lost over the North Persian Gulf after a successful mission to Iraq; he was officially listed as killed in action, body not recovered.

An F/A-18C taking off from USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63)

As the A-6 Intruder was retired in the 1990s, its role was filled by the F/A-18. The F/A-18 demonstrated its versatility and reliability during Operation Desert Storm, shooting down enemy fighters and subsequently bombing enemy targets with the same aircraft on the same mission. It broke records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability, and maintainability.

Both U.S. Navy F/A-18A/C models and Marine F/A-18A/C/D models were used continuously in Operation Southern Watch and over Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. U.S. Navy Hornets flew during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 from carriers operating in the North Arabian Sea. Both the F/A-18A/C and newer F/A-18E/F variants were used during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, operating from aircraft carriers as well from an air base in Kuwait. Later in the conflict USMC A+, C, and primarily D models operated from bases within Iraq.

An F/A-18C was accidentally downed in a friendly fire incident by a Patriot missile when a pilot tried to evade two missiles fired at him and crashed.[29] Two others collided over Iraq in May 2005. In January 2007, two Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets collided in midair and crashed in the Persian Gulf.[30]

Non-U.S. service

Though U.S. Navy aircraft have generally not sold well on the export market, the F/A-18 has been purchased and is in operation with several foreign air services. Export Hornets are typically similar to U.S. models of a similar manufacture date. Since none of the customers operate aircraft carriers, all export models have been sold without the automatic carrier landing system, and Royal Australian Air Force further removed the catapult attachment on the nose gear.[22] Except for Canada, all export customers purchased their Hornets through the U.S. Navy, via the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program, where the Navy acts as the purchasing manager but incurs no financial gain or loss. Canada, the largest Hornet operator outside of the U.S., ordered its aircraft directly from the manufacturer.


Main article: McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet in Australian service

Three RAAF F/A-18As in 2013

The Royal Australian Air Force purchased 57 F/A-18A fighters and 18 F/A-18B two-seat trainers to replace its Dassault Mirage IIIOs. Numerous options were considered for the replacement, notably the F-15A Eagle, the F-16 Falcon, and the then new F/A-18 Hornet. The F-15 was discounted because the version offered had no ground-attack capability. The F-16 was considered unsuitable largely due to having only one engine. Australia selected the F/A-18 in October 1981. Original differences between the Australian and US Navy's standard F/A-18 were the removed nose wheel tie bar for catapult launch (later re-fitted with a dummy version to remove nose wheel shimmy), addition of a high frequency radio, an Australian fatigue data analysis system, an improved video and voice recorder, and the use of ILS/VOR (Instrument Landing System/Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range) instead of the carrier landing system.

The first two aircraft were produced in the US, with the remainder assembled in Australia at Government Aircraft Factories. F/A-18 deliveries to the RAAF began on 29 October 1984, and continued until May 1990. In 2001, Australia deployed four aircraft to Diego Garcia, in an air defense role, during coalition operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2003, 75 Squadron deployed 14 F/A-18s to Qatar as part of Operation Falconer and these aircraft saw action during the invasion of Iraq. Australia had 71 Hornets in service in 2006, after four were lost to crashes.

The fleet was upgraded beginning in the late 1990s to extend their service lives to 2015. They were expected to be retired then and replaced by the F-35 Lightning II. Several of the Australian Hornets have had refits applied to extend their service lives until the planned retirement date of 2020. In addition to the F/A-18A and F/A-18B Hornets, Australia has purchased 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, with deliveries beginning in 2009.


Canadian CF-188A Hornet off the coast of Hawaii. Note the "false cockpit" painted on the underside of the aircraft, intended to confuse enemy pilots during dogfights.

Main article: McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet

Canada was the first export customer for the Hornet, replacing the CF-104 Starfighter (air reconnaissance & strike), the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo (air interception) and the CF-116 Freedom Fighter (ground attack). The Canadian Forces Air Command ordered 98 A models (Canadian designation CF-188A/CF-18A) and 40 B models (designation CF-188B/CF-18B).

In 1991, Canada committed 26 CF-18s to the Gulf War, based in Qatar. These aircraft primarily provided Combat Air Patrol duties, although late in the air war began to perform air strikes on Iraqi ground targets. On January 30, 1991, two CF-18s on CAP detected and attacked an Iraqi TNC-45 patrol boat. The vessel was repeatedly strafed and damaged by 20mm cannon fire, but an attempt to sink the ship with air to air missiles failed. The ship was subsequently sunk by American aircraft, but the Canadian CF-18s received partial credit for its destruction. In June 1999, 18 CF-18s were deployed to Aviano AB, Italy, where they participated in both the air-to-ground and air-to-air roles in the former Yugoslavia.

Sixty two CF-18A and 18 CF-18B aircraft took part in the Incremental Modernization Project which was completed in two phases. The program was launched in 2001 and the last updated aircraft was delivered in March 2010. The aims were to improve air-to-air and air-to-ground combat abilities, upgrade sensors and the defensive suite, and replace the datalinks and communications systems on board the CF-18 from the F/A-18A and F/A-18B standard to the current F/A-18C and D standard.

In July 2010 the Canadian government announced plans to replace the remaining CF-18 fleet with 65 F-35 Lightning IIs, with deliveries scheduled to start in 2016.


A Finnish Air Force F-18C at RIAT 2005

The Finnish Air Force (Suomen Ilmavoimat) ordered 64 F-18C/Ds (57 C models, seven D models) with delivery started on 7 June 1995. The Hornet replaced the MiG-21bis and Saab 35 Draken in Finnish service. The Finnish Hornets were initially to be used only for air defense, hence the F-18 designation. The F-18C includes the ASPJ (Airborne-Self-Protection-Jammer) jamming pod ALQ-165.[44] The US Navy later included the ALQ-165 on their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet procurement.

One fighter was destroyed in a mid-air collision in 2001. A damaged F-18C was rebuilt into a F-18D. To do so, a forward section of a Canadian CF-18B was purchased and incorporated. The modified fighter crashed during a test flight in January 2010. The cause of the crash was determined to be due to a faulty tailplane servo cylinder.

Finland is upgrading its fleet of F-18s with new avionics, including helmet mounted sights (HMS), new cockpit displays, sensors and standard NATO data link. Several of the 63 Hornets remaining are going to be fitted to carry air-to-ground ordnance such as the AGM-158 JASSM, in effect returning to the original F/A-18 multi-role configuration. The upgrade includes also the procurement and integration of new AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. This Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) is estimated to cost between €1–1.6 billion and work is scheduled to be finished by 2016. After the upgrades the aircraft are to remain in active service until 2020–2025.


The Kuwait Air Force (Al Quwwat Aj Jawwaiya Al Kuwaitiya) ordered 32 F/A-18C and eight F/A-18D Hornets in 1988 and delivery started in October 1991.The F/A-18C/Ds replaced A-4KU Skyhawk. Kuwait Air Force Hornets have flown missions over Iraq during Operation Southern Watch in the 1990s. They have also participated in military exercises with the air forces of other Gulf nations. Kuwait had 39 F/A-18C/D Hornets in service in 2008.


The Royal Malaysian Air Force (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia) has eight F/A-18Ds. The air force split their order between the F/A-18 and the Mikoyan MiG-29. Three Hornets were employed together with five UK-made BAE Hawk 208 in an airstrike on the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo terrorist hideout on March 5, 2013, occupying part of Borneo, just before the joint forces of Malaysian Army and Royal Malaysia Police operatives launched an assault in the 2013 Lahad Datu standoff.


Spanish Air Force's EF-18

The Spanish Air Force (Ejército del Aire) ordered 60 EF-18A model and 12 EF-18B model Hornets (the "E" standing for "España", Spain), named respectively as C.15 and CE.15 by Spanish AF. Delivery of the Spanish version started on 22 November 1985. These fighters were upgraded to F-18A+/B+ standard, close to F/A-18C/D (plus version includes later mission and armament computers, databuses, data-storage set, new wiring, pylon modifications and software, new abilities as AN/AAS-38B NITE Hawk targeting FLIR pods).

In 1995 Spain obtained 24 ex-USN F/A-18A Hornets, with six more on option. These were delivered from December 1995 until December 1999. Before delivery, they were modified to EF-18A+ standard. This was the first sale of USN surplus Hornets.

Spanish Hornets operate as an all-weather interceptor 60% of the time and as an all-weather day/night attack aircraft for the remainder. In case of war, each of the front-line squadrons would take a primary role: 121 is tasked with tactical air support and maritime operations; 151 and 122 are assigned to all-weather interception and air combat roles; and 152 is assigned the SEAD mission. Air refueling is provided by KC-130Hs and Boeing 707TTs. Pilot conversion to EF-18 is centralized in 153 Squadron (Ala 15). Squadron 462's role is air defense of the Canary Islands, being responsible for fighter and attack missions from Gando AB.

Spanish Air Force EF-18 Hornets have flown Ground Attack, SEAD, combat air patrol (CAP) combat missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, under NATO command, in Aviano detachment (Italy). They shared the base with Canadian and USMC F/A-18s. Six Spanish Hornets had been lost in accidents by 2003.

Over Yugoslavia, eight EF-18s, based at Aviano AB, participated in bombing raids in Operation Allied Force in 1999. Over Bosnia, they also performed missions for air-to-air combat air patrol, close air support air-to-ground, photo reconnaissance, forward air controller-airborne, and tactical air controller-airborne. Over Libya, four Spanish Hornets participated in enforcing a no-fly zone.


F/A-18D Hornet dual at Payerne

The Swiss Air Force purchased 26 C models and eight D models. One D model was lost in a crash. Delivery of the aircraft started on 25 January 1996.

In late 2007 Switzerland requested to be included in F/A-18C/D Upgrade 25 Program, to extend the useful life of its F/A-18C/Ds. The program includes significant upgrades to the avionics and mission computer, 20 ATFLIR surveillance and targeting pods, and 44 sets of AN/ALR-67v3 ECM equipment. In October 2008 the Swiss Hornet fleet reached the 50,000 flight hour milestone.

Potential operators

The F/A-18C and F/A-18D were considered by the French Navy (Marine Nationale) during the 1980s for deployment on their aircraft carriers Clemenceau and Foch and again in the 1990s for the later nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle, in the event that the Dassault Rafale M was not brought into service when originally planned.

Austria, Chile, Czech Republic, Hungary, Philippines, Poland, and Singapore evaluated the Hornet but did not purchase it. Thailand ordered four C and four D model Hornets but the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s resulted in the order being canceled. The U.S. DoD then purchased the Hornets in production for the Marine Corps.

The F/A-18A and F-18L land-based version competed for a fighter contract from Greece in the 1980s. The Greek government chose F-16 and Mirage 2000 instead.


An F/A-18B Hornet assigned to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School

A Marine F/A-18D of VMFAT-101 prepares for takeoff


The F/A-18A is the single-seat variant and the F/A-18B is the two-seat variant. The space for the two-seat cockpit is provided by a relocation of avionic equipment and a 6% reduction in internal fuel; two-seat Hornets are otherwise fully combat-capable. The B model is used primarily for training.

In 1992, the original Hughes AN/APG-65 radar was replaced with the Hughes (now Raytheon) AN/APG-73, a faster and more capable radar. A model Hornets that have been upgraded to the AN/APG-73 are designated F/A-18A+.


The F/A-18C is the single-seat variant and the F/A-18D is the two-seat variant. The D-model can be configured for training or as an all-weather strike craft. The "missionized" D model's rear seat is configured for a Marine Corps Naval Flight Officer who functions as a Weapons and Sensors Officer to assist in operating the weapons systems. The F/A-18D is primarily operated by the U.S. Marine Corps in the night attack and Forward Air Controller (Airborne) (FAC(A)) roles.

The F/A-18C and D models are the result of a block upgrade in 1987 incorporating upgraded radar, avionics, and the capacity to carry new missiles such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile and AGM-65 Maverick and AGM-84 Harpoon air-to-surface missiles. Other upgrades include the Martin-Baker NACES (Navy Aircrew Common Ejection Seat), and a self-protection jammer. A synthetic aperture ground mapping radar enables the pilot to locate targets in poor visibility conditions. C and D models delivered since 1989 also have improved night attack abilities, consisting of the Hughes AN/AAR-50 thermal navigation pod, the Loral AN/AAS-38 NITE Hawk FLIR (forward looking infrared array) targeting pod, night vision goggles, and two full-color (formerly monochrome) multi-function display (MFDs) and a color moving map.

In addition, 60 D-model Hornets are configured as the night attack F/A-18D (RC) with ability for reconnaissance. These could be outfitted with the ATARS electro-optical sensor package that includes a sensor pod and equipment mounted in the place of the M61 cannon.

Beginning in 1992, the F404-GE-402 enhanced performance engine, providing approximately 10% more maximum static thrust became the standard Hornet engine. Since 1993, the AAS-38A NITE Hawk added a designator/ranger laser, allowing it to self-mark targets. The later AAS-38B added the ability to strike targets designated by lasers from other aircraft.

Production of the F/A-18C ended in 1999. In 2000, the last F/A-18D was delivered to the U.S. Marine Corps.

E/F Super Hornet

Main article: F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

A VFA-11 F/A-18F Super Hornet performing evasive maneuvers during an air power demonstration above USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75)

The single-seat F/A-18E and two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets carry over the name and design concept of the original F/A-18, but have been extensively redesigned. The Super Hornet has a new, 25% larger airframe, larger rectangular air intakes, more powerful GE F414 engines based on F/A-18's F404, and upgraded avionics suite. Like the Marine Corps' F/A-18D, the Navy's F/A-18F carries a Naval Flight Officer as a second crewman in a Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) role. The Super Hornet aircraft is in production and has equipped 22 squadrons.

The EA-18G Growler is an electronic warfare version of the two-seat F/A-18F, which entered production in 2007. The Growler will replace the Navy's EA-6B Prowler and carries a Naval Flight Officer as a second crewman in an Electronic Countermeasures Officer (ECMO) role.

Australia is the only nation other than the United States to operate the Super Hornet.

Other US variants

This was a proposed reconnaissance version of the F/A-18A. It included a sensor package that replaced the 20 mm cannon. The first of two prototypes flew in August 1984. Small numbers were produced.[65]
Proposed two-seat reconnaissance version for the US Marine Corps in the mid-1980s. It was to carry a radar reconnaissance pod. The system was canceled after it was unfunded in 1988. This ability was later realized on the F/A-18D(RC).[65]

X-53, NASA's modified F/A-18
Two-seat training version of the F/A-18A fighter, later redesignated F/A-18B.
Single-seat High Alpha Research Vehicle for NASA. High angles of attack using thrust vectoring, modifications to the flight controls, and forebody strakes
X-53 Active Aeroelastic Wing
A NASA F/A-18 has been modified to demonstrate the Active Aeroelastic Wing technology, and was designated X-53 in December 2006.

Export variants

These designations are not part of 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system.

This was a lighter land-based version of the F/A-18 Hornet. It was designed to be a single-seat air-superiority fighter and ground-attack aircraft. It was originally intended to be assembled by Northrop as the export version of the F/A-18 Hornet. The F-18L was lighter via removing carrier landing capability. Despite the advantages, customers preferred the standard Hornet, and the F-18L never entered mass production.
  • (A)F/A-18A: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Royal Australian Air Force.
  • (A)F/A-18B: Two-seat training version for the Royal Australian Air Force.
"F/A-18A" was the original company designation, designations of "AF-18A" & "ATF-18A" have also been applied. Assembled in Australia (excluding the first two (A)F/A-18Bs) by Aero-Space Technologies of Australia (ASTA) from 1985 through to 1990, from kits produced by McDonnell Douglas with increasing local content in the later aircraft. Originally the most notable differences between an Australian (A)F/A-18A/B and a US F/A-18A/B were the lack of a catapult attachment, replacing the carrier tailhook with a lighter land arresting hook, and the automatic carrier landing system with an Instrument Landing System. Australian Hornets have been involved in several major upgrade programs. This program called HUG (Hornet Upgrade) has had a few evolutions over the years. The first was to give Australian Hornets F/A-18C model avionics. The second and current upgrade program (HUG 2.2) updates the fleet's avionics even further.
CF-18 Hornet
  • CF-18A: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The official Canadian designation is CF-188A Hornet.
  • CF-18B: Two-seat training and combat version for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The official Canadian designation is CF-188B Hornet.
EF-18 Hornet
  • EF-18A: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish Air Force designation is C.15.
  • EF-18B: Two-seat training version for the Spanish Air Force. The Spanish Air Force designation is CE.15.
KAF-18 Hornet
  • KAF-18C: Single-seat fighter/attack version for the Kuwait Air Force
  • KAF-18D: Two-seat training version for the Kuwait Air Force
F-18C/D Hornet
  • The Finnish Air Force uses F/A-18C/D Hornets, with a Finland-specific mid-life update. The first seven Hornets (D models) were produced by McDonnell Douglas.[44] The 57 single-seat F-18C model units were assembled by Patria in Finland.
F-18C/D Hornet
  • Switzerland uses F-18C/D,later Swiss specific mid-life update. The Swiss F-18s had no ground attack capability originally, until hardware was retrofitted.
Irene Ferguson 2013 Marine Wife
17 AUGUST 2013

Marine Wife Award 2013: Jamie Weathers

Recognizing Marine Wives’ hard work

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar / 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story by Lance Cpl. Raquel Barraza

Saturday, June 6, 2013

SAN DIEGO – Jamie Weathers, a music teacher with Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School, Ariz., and a Marshall, Okla., native, received the Irene Ferguson Marine Wife Recognition Award at the 8th Annual Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation Black Tie Gala at the Westgate Hotel, San Diego, June 1.


Jamie Weathers, center, a music teacher with Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School, Ariz., and a Marshall, Okla., native, stands with Jeanie Spies, director of the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, and Sasha Lightfoot, last year’s Irene Ferguson Marine Wife Recognition Award recipient, after receiving her award at the 8th Annual Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation Black Tie Gala at the Westgate Hotel, San Diego, June 1. Weathers is this year’s recipient of the award in recognition of her exceptional support of the military and her community.

The award is to recognize an outstanding spouse who has supported their husband’s military career, explained Glenn Ferguson, founder of the award and a Harvey, Ill., native.

“The husbands get medals and awards for their accomplishments, but what does the wife get?” said Ferguson. “The spouse is a big reason why a Marine can do what he needs to do.”

Weathers is the third recipient of the award, but does not see it as an individual accomplishment.

“There are so many wonderful military spouses out there,” said Weathers. “I would love to share it will all of the other military spouses.”

Her husband of 19 years could not be more proud and is grateful for all her support.

“She has always held the fort down, and through everything, she has kept a smile on her face,” said Lt. Col. Brent Weathers, the operations officer with Marine Aircraft Group 13, and a Marshall, Okla., native.

In addition to recognizing military spouses, the award encourages them to become a bigger part of their community. “It promotes volunteerism and how important it is to get involved with the military community,” said Lt. Col. Weathers.

Weathers volunteers at different outlets throughout her community, including the Navy Marine Corps society, the Yuma Officers’ Wives’ Club, with her unit family readiness officer and her church, explained Sasha Lightfoot, last year’s Irene Ferguson Marine Wife Recognition Award recipient, during her speech before she presented the award to Weathers.

Marine Wife 2012 Sasha Lightfoot
17 AUGUST 2013

Marine Wife Award 2012: Sasha Lightfoot

Marine Wife Recognition Award goes to Sasha Lightfoot



MajGen Bobby Butcher (retired), left, chairman of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, speaks about the deeds of Sasha Lightfoot, right, recipient of the Irene Ferguson Marine Wife Recognition Award and a Fort Worth, Texas, native at an award ceremony aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., June 27. Lightfoot was recognized for her strength of character, personal sacrifice and commitment to family, community and country.



17 AUGUST 2013

Marine Wife Award 2011: Rachael Wunderlich


Rachael Wunderlich, the recipient of the Irene Ferguson Marine Wife Recognition Award and a Monterey, Calif., native, stands with her husband, Staff Sgt. Corey Wunderlich, an airframes mechanic with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 and a St. Louis native, for the first inducted IFMWRA at the Flying Leatherneck Historic Foundation and Aviation Museum here Aug. 30. The award honors and highlights the resiliency, strength and dedication that the United States Marine Corps wife embodies as she supports service members.















Congratulations to Rachel Wunderlich, 2011 Irene Ferguson Marine Wife of the Year.

22 JULY 2013

Picnic With A Pilot: Rex McCoy

Rex McCoy discussed his time as a gunner on ship during the Vietnam War. He showed guests the type of US Marine Corps aircraft that saved his life and the lives of his comrades. The video is an excerpt of his talk. Scroll down for the full photo gallery. Save the date for the next Picnic with a Pilot on Saturday, August 17, 2013 with SgtMaj Mike Zacker (Retired) at 11 a.m.