Naval Aviator explains why the F/A-18 has its vertical stabilizers canted inward during cat shot

Naval Aviator explains why the F/A-18 has its rudders deflected inward during cat shot

By Dario Leone
Aug 25 2023
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The F/A-18

The F/A-18 Hornet became the US’ first all-weather fighter and attack aircraft, and was designed for traditional strike applications such as interdiction and close air support without compromising its fighter capabilities. The F/A-18 A-D is employed in Marine Corps fighter attack squadrons, US Navy and Marine Corps Reserve squadrons.

The Hornet demonstrated its capabilities and versatility early in its lifecycle during Operation Desert Storm where the F/A-18 wherein the aircraft shot down Iraqi MiG-21 fighters and bombed enemy targets within the same mission. Other operations with the aircraft have been Operation Southern Watch from 1992 to 2003 and with flights over Bosnia and Kosovo in the mid-1990s. Hornets have also participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The F/A-18 has been replaced by the Super Hornet with the designations of F/A-18-E/F. The last operational flight by a Hornet as by an F/A-18C in October 2019.

F/A-18 rudders deflected inward during cat shot

One interesting thing about the F/A-18 is that during the cat shot its rudders are deflected inward.

Why is that?

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David Tussey, former US Naval aviator, explains on Quora;

‘During operational testing of early F/A-18s, it was discovered that the aircraft was not sufficiently rotating upward at the end of the catapult launch. This, of course, was disconcerting and dangerous.

‘Several modifications were undertaken to address this issue. One such modification was to deflect the rudders slightly inward during the cat shot. This was done by modifying the flight control software, and so required no mechanical changes.

‘The inward pointing rudders impart a downward aerodynamic force to the aft portion of the aircraft, which in turn creates an upward movement of the nose, resulting in a more distinct nose rotation at the end of the catapult shot. It pushes the tail down, and the nose up.’

Tussey concludes;

‘Admittedly it’s a kluge, but it works and was straightforward to implement.’

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Benjamin Dennis

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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