Classic Hornet in Australian Service

Australia’s Tactical Fighter Force project to select a replacement for the RAAF’s Mirage fighter was a significant one, not only for choosing the RAAF’s main fighter for the next three decades but to develop local industry participation.

The search for a Mirage replacement began as early as 1970 and by November 1979 the shortlist had been reduced to two aircraft: the General Dynamics F-16 and McDonnell Douglas F-18. By late 1981 it was the F/A-18 Hornet that was chosen.

Northrop had partnered with McDonnell Douglas to create a derivative of the  YF-17 for the United States Navy, which became the F/A-18 Hornet multi­role combat aircraft.  The first prototypes flew on 18 November 1978 and full-scale production for the US Navy was approved in June 1981.

In November 1981, the Australian Government contracted to buy seventy-five Hornets for the RAAF –  57 single-seat F/A-18As and 18 two-seat F/A-18Bs.

This would be the RAAF’s first computerized, digital aircraft, with innovations that made a more versatile, survivable, maintainable and reliable aircraft than previous generation fighter-bombers. The Hornet’s advanced ‘glass’ cockpit with extensive use of software programmable displays and systems complemented by the ‘HOTAS’ (or “hands-on-throttle-and-stick”) capability, allowed a single pilot to cope with the workload of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions that would otherwise have required a second crew member.