Canada's CF-18 Hornet
Canada’s fighter force and the supersonic CF-18 Hornet play a significant role in NORAD to help protect and safeguard North American skies against airborne threats.
The CF-18 Hornet replaced the CF-104 Starfighters and the CF-101 Voodoos starting in 1982. Equipping five squadrons in Canada and three in West Germany at CFB Baden-Soellingen, the CF-18 was better suited to the modern battlefield with its superior manoeuvrability, good self protection equipment, modern communications, and excellent radar.
In Europe, the CF-18s were optimized for air defence missions and stood ready to counter the substantial Warsaw Pact air forces that had been expanded and upgraded in the 1970s with new MiG and Sukhoi fighter aircraft.
Canada’s CF-18s stood ready to blunt the first waves of Soviet strike aircraft aimed at NATO’s airfields, missile sites, and nuclear weapons facilities. CF-18 pilots also trained for ground strikes in this period, using the unguided rockets and bombs available at that time.
"The average mission required hours of preparation. Maps were prepared for attacks on ground targets and to work on formation air intercept tactics. The flights were short, about an hour and a half, but what they lacked in length they made up for in intensity.
After landing, another hour and a half would be dedicated to debriefing and learning as many lessons as possible. We were on the front line and we were ready." Col. Don Matthews, CO 439 Squadron
The CF-18 in NORAD
During the 1980’s, the RCAF assigned Fighter Squadrons stationed at CFB Cold Lake and CFB Bagotville to NORAD for air defense and sovereignty missions across Canada to the North Pole. CFB Bagotville’s 425 Squadron was responsible for air defence from Winnipeg to the East Coast and to the North Pole with forward operating locations (FOLs) in Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.
CFB Cold Lake based 441 Squadron held alert status in Comox on Vancouver Island with FOLs at Yellowknife and Inuvik and were responsible for air defence from Winnipeg to the West Coast to the North Pole.
The Cold War presented the biggest threat to national sovereignty in North America at that time. The closest route between the Soviet Union and Canada was through the far north and this was where the threat had to be met.
The Soviets, and now Russia, continue to this day to fly training missions into the high Arctic that simulate nuclear armed cruise missile attacks. NORAD needed to demonstrate that they could intercept and shoot down all attacking aircraft before they could reach a point where they could successfully launch cruise missiles.
Squadron crews were assigned to FOLs and pilots were scrambled to an FOL about every six weeks to identify air traffic in the high arctic. It was thought at the time that the Soviet TU 95 bombers could launch their cruise missiles at about six hundred miles north of Inuvik to reach targets in Canada and the southern U.S.
Consequently, the pilots had to complete the intercepts well north of that position. On missions into the Arctic the aircraft refueled via air tankers from NORAD assigned US Squadrons in Alaska and a Canadian tanker equipped Squadron at CFB Trenton, Ontario.
Each CF-18 had to be topped off with enough fuel to reach an alternate airport throughout the mission. Landing on northern runways was challenging. Inuvik has a 5900 foot runway which was snow covered with medium to poor braking action for much of the year.
Ground crews often used mobile arrestor gear to accommodate cable engagements on each landing. This is much like aircraft carrier operations except the deck isn’t pitching. Extreme cold and wind chill, coupled with 24 hour darkness for much of the winter season presented a challenge for ground crew and aircrew alike.
All pilots had to pass an Arctic Survival Course before flying operational missions in the far north. An ejection in the high Arctic would probably require the pilot to survive on the ice for around twenty four hours before Search and Rescue forces could arrive. Flying in the high Arctic gave one a new perspective on how large and spectacular our country is in reality. Canadian sovereignty to the North Pole is not recognized by most of the world and it is important that we maintain a presence there to ensure it is ours in the future. Thanks to Bob Wade for this account.
The CF-18 at the AFMA
The CF-18 (188719) on display at the Air Force Museum of Alberta was first acquired by the Canadian Air Force in March 1984. This aircraft served with various squadrons during the 1980's and 90's, including No. 409, 425 and 410 Squadrons.
In January 1989, the aircraft was damaged by an in-flight fire and was sent back to Canadair where it was rebuilt with parts from a decommissioned USN F-18 (No 161721).
In 2005 the aircraft took part in both the Canadian National Exposition air show and the Abbotsford air show. In February 2006, while stationed at the Naval Air Station, Key West, Florida, the aircraft was damaged after striking an airport boundary fence.
After repairs were completed the aircraft was returned to CFB Cold Lake, Alberta with No. 410 Squadron in April 2006. The CF-18 was flown to Toronto in July 2006 and took part in the St.Thomas, Ontario air show in June 2007. It was given a special paint scheme to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the CF-18 Hornets in Canada.
The aircraft also participated in the Cape Cod air show in August 2007 and took part in the Canadian International air show in Toronto, Ontario in September 2007. It was on display at Nellis AFB during the air show there in November 2007, in 410 Squadron markings.
In early 2009 at Bagotville, Quebec, the aircraft received a special paint scheme to commemorate 100th anniversary of powered flight in Canada. It was on display at the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, South Carolina air show in June 2009 and the CFB Trenton air show in July 2009. In 2011, the aircraft was retired from the RCAF.
In October 2014, the CF-18 was delivered to Air Force Museum in Calgary, Alberta, where it is currently on display. Thanks to Chris Charland for this background history of the CF-18.
CF-18 - Hornet
- Crew - 1-2
- Maximum Takeoff Weight - 23,400 Kg
- Powerplant -2x F404-GE-400
- Thrust - 10,700 lbf (4,850 kg) each
- Thrust with Afterburner - 16,000 lbf (7,290 kg) each
- Maximum Speed - 1.8 Mach or 1,814 km/h
- Service Ceiling - 15,200m (50,000 ft)
- Range - 3,700 km
- Guns - 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan Cannon Rockets – 19 X CRV 7, 4 x LAU-3
- Missles - AIM9 Sidewinder, AIM7 Sparrow
- Mk82 Bombs