Boeing F/A-18 Hornet Flight Notes
Required Runway Length
Engine Startup
Takeoff (runway)
Takeoff (carrier)
Carrier Operations
Approach (runway)
Landing (runway)
Approach (carrier)
Landing (carrier)

Many factors affect flight planning and aircraft operation, including aircraft weight, weather, and runway surface. The recommended flight parameters listed below are intended to give approximations for flights at maximum takeoff or landing weight on a day with International Standard Atmosphere (ISA) conditions.

Important: These instructions are intended for use with Flight Simulator only and are no substitute for using the actual aircraft manual for real-world flight.

Note: As with all of the Flight Simulator aircraft, the V-speeds and checklists are located on the Kneeboard. To access the Kneeboard while flying, press SHIFT+F10, or on the Aircraft menu, click Kneeboard.

Note: All speeds given in Flight Notes are indicated airspeeds. If you're using these speeds as reference, be sure that you select "Display Indicated Airspeed" in the Realism Settings dialog box. Speeds listed in the specifications table are shown as true airspeeds.

Note:For general information about flying jet aircraft in Flight Simulator, see Flying Jets.

By default, this aircraft has full fuel and payload. Depending on atmospheric conditions, altitude, and other factors, you will not get the same performance at gross weight that you would with a lighter load.

Required Runway Length

Takeoff (runway): 5,200 feet (1,585 meters), flaps HALF
Takeoff (carrier): < 1,000 feet (300 meters), flaps HALF
Landing (runway): 5,150 feet (1,570 meters), flaps FULL
Landing (carrier): < 1,000 feet (300 meters), flaps FULL

The length required for both takeoff and landing is a result of a number of factors, such as aircraft weight, altitude, headwind, use of flaps, and ambient temperature. The figures here are conservative and assume:

Weight: 35,000 pounds (15,875 kilograms)
Altitude: sea level
Wind: no headwind
Temperature: 15°C
Lower weights and temperatures result in better performance, as does having a headwind component. Higher altitudes and temperatures degrade performance.
Runway: hard surface

Engine Startup

The engines are running by default when you begin a flight. If you shut the engines down, it is possible to initiate an auto-startup sequence by pressing CTRL+E on your keyboard. Use the checklist on the Kneeboard for step-by-step procedures.


Idle thrust is adequate for taxiing under most conditions. Allow time for a response after each thrust change before changing the thrust setting again.

In Flight Simulator, rudder pedals (twist the joystick, use the rudder pedals, or press 0 [left] or ENTER [right] on the numeric keypad) are used for directional control during taxiing.


Flap extension speed for HALF flaps is 250 knots. Use this setting for takeoff.

Takeoff (runway)

All of the following occurs quite rapidly. Read through the procedure several times before attempting it in the plane so you know what to expect.

Run through the Before Takeoff checklist.

With the aircraft aligned with the runway centerline, advance the throttles (press F3, or drag the throttle levers) to MIL power (or afterburner if desired). The exact amount of initial setting is not as important as setting symmetrical thrust.

Directional control is maintained by use of the rudder pedals (twist the joystick, use the rudder pedals, or press 0 [left] or ENTER [right] on the numeric keypad).

Because of the position of the main landing gear, you cannot rotate early in the takeoff roll. Hold the stick just aft of neutral during the initial run. Hold the stick aft until the nose is 6° to 8° high attitude. The main gear will lift-off around 173 knots, requiring slight forward stick to maintain the desired attitude.

For a minimal takeoff run, use full afterburner. Apply full aft stick until the aircraft begins to rotate.

Once a positive rate of climb is established, retract the landing gear. Accelerate to the desired climb speed.

Takeoff (carrier)

Before attempting a carrier takeoff, fly the Carrier Tutorial Mission. Run through the Before Takeoff checklist.

The F/A-18 requires an assisted takeoff from an aircraft carrier deck. A steam catapult meets this requirement by attaching to the nose landing gear and essentially dragging the multi-ton aircraft to takeoff speed from zero to 165 knots in only seconds.

To launch from an aircraft carrier

  1. Taxi the F/A-18 into position for assisted takeoff.
  2. Note 1: The nose wheel of the aircraft must be inside one of the red/white stripe boxes around the catapult launch sled.

  3. Press SHIFT+U to extend the launch bar.
  4. Press SHIFT+I to enage the catapult (assisted takeoff).
  5. Press F4 or push the joystick throttle forward to advance power to FULL.
  6. With the engines at full takeoff power, press SHIFT+SPACEBAR to launch the catapult.
  7. Note 2: The launch bar will retract automatically once the throttle is advanced past 80% AND the aircraft releases from the catapult sled.

Use these key commands for carrier operations:

Carrier Operations

Function Key Command
Tail Hook (Extend/Retract) SHIFT+Q
Takeoff Assist (Arm/Disarm) SHIFT+I
Launch Bar (Extend/Retract) SHIFT+U
Takeoff Assist (Trigger) SHIFT+SPACEBAR

Advance the thrust levers to full afterburner. When the catapult is released, you'll go from zero to takeoff speed in about two seconds. At the end of the carrier deck, immediately climb away from the ship.


The Hornet's sophisticated flight control system enables excellent high angle of attack maneuverability. The lift limit is 35 degrees AOA, and the Hornet remains controllable up to 50 degrees AOA. Above 35 degrees AOA the roll rate is much more limited. At 30,000 lbs the aircraft should maintain 100 knots at 35 degrees AOA at 15,000 feet. In this flight regime, you should fully lower the leading edge and trailing edge flaps and operate the ailerons in the drooped position.

The outstanding high-AOA characteristics come at a price: operating in this regime results in intense energy bleed. The Hornet is an aircraft that gets slow faster than most when turning hard, and it's also a little slower to regain lost energy. A 5 degree nose high attitude allows acceleration to 350 knots.

NOTE: Be aware that fuel capacity is low and fuel consumption is high in the Hornet.


As you retract the flaps, set climb power of approximately 42 percent N1 (press F2, use the throttle control on your joystick, or drag the thrust levers). Maintain 5 degrees nose-up pitch attitude to climb at 350 knots until reaching 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and then as desired to your cruising altitude.


Cruise altitude is normally determined by winds, weather, and other factors. You might want to use these factors in your flight planning if you have created weather systems along your route. Optimum altitude gives the best fuel economy for a given configuration and gross weight. A complete discussion about choosing altitudes is beyond the scope of this section.

Chances are you will not be flying the Hornet at slow speeds for best fuel economy. You also do not need to worry about passenger comfort.

Typical cruise speed is 580 knots at high altitude (720 knots at low altitude). The Hornet is capable of reaching Mach 1.8 (1,127 mph, 1,814 km/h) at 36,100 ft (11,000 m). The changeover from indicated airspeed to Mach number typically occurs as you climb to altitudes of 20,000 to 30,000 feet (6,000 to 9,000 meters).

Maximum-range cruise airspeed is approximated by flying at 4.2° AOA, no faster than 0.85 Mach. Maximum endurance can be approximated by flying 5.6° AOA.

Remember that your true airspeed is actually much higher in the thin, cold air. You'll have to experiment with power settings to find the setting that maintains the cruise speed you want at the altitude you choose.


A good descent profile requires knowing where to start down from cruise altitude and planning ahead for the approach. Normal descent is done with idle thrust and clean configuration (no speed brakes). A good rule for determining when to start your descent is the 3-to-1 rule (three miles distance per thousand feet in altitude). Take your altitude in feet, drop the last three zeros, and multiply by 3.

For example, to descend from a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) to sea level:
35,000 minus the last three zeros is 35.
35 x 3=105

This means you should begin your descent 105 nautical miles from your destination, maintaining a speed of 300 KIAS and a descent rate of 1,500 to 2,000 feet per minute, with thrust set at idle. Add two extra miles for every 10 knots of tailwind.

To descend, disengage the autopilot if you turned it on during cruise, or set the airspeed or vertical speed into the autopilot and let it do the flying for you. Reduce power to idle, and lower the nose slightly. Continue this profile down to the beginning of the approach phase of flight.

Deviations from this procedure can result in arriving too high at the destination (requiring circling to descend) or arriving too low and far out (requiring expenditure of extra time and fuel). Plan to have an initial approach fix regardless of whether or not you're flying an instrument approach.

Tactical Approach (runway)

NOTE: To practice making tactical—or corkscrew—approaches in the F/A-18, fly the Corkscrew Approach Mission. Click Missions on the left-hand menu and then select the Military category.

Enter the pattern per local rules but on the opposite side of the runway from downwind. At the break to crosswind, reduce thrust and extend the speed brake (if required). As the airspeed decreases through 250 knots, lower the landing gear and extend the flaps to FULL. Retract the speed brake.

Decelerate to final speed. Complete the landing checklist. Roll into the base leg and establish a rate of descent, maintaining AOA.

Speed on final with 2,000 pounds of internal fuel is about 134 knots. Add about 2.5 knots for each 1,000 pounds additional fuel. Avoid overcontrolling the throttles.

Landing (runway)

At touchdown, reduce the throttles to idle. The Hornet tends to align itself with the runway centerline. Use the rudder pedals to make small corrections in alignment.

Once the nosewheel is on the ground, hold the stick full aft and brake lightly.

Approach (aircraft carrier)

NOTE: To practice making carrier approaches and landings in the F/A-18, fly the following Missions:

  • Carrier Tutorial
  • Carrier Practice
  • Carrier Landing IMC
Click Missions on the left-hand menu and then select the Military or Tutorial category.

The daytime traffic pattern for carrier landings is "race track" shape with the downwind leg at 600 feet, 180 degrees opposite the Base Recovery Course (the heading the ship is on). Enter the traffic pattern by flying at an altitude of 800 feet straight up the ship's wake, passing the ship close on the right side. Fly this at about 250 knots. If this is a full stop landing, lower the tailhook.

After passing the ship, perform a full-aileron-deflection left snap roll to a 70 to 90 degree angle of bank, reduce the throttle to idle, and extend full speed-brakes.

As you bank over, pull the stick back to about a 3 to 4 'g' pull and maintain this high-g turn level. Deceleration to flap extension and landing airspeed is swift. Be very careful to roll out of this turn on the exact reciprocal, downwind heading.

As you slow down and turn on heading for the downwind leg, descend out of 800 feet for 600 feet. Extend the landing gear and lower flaps to full. Increase the throttle to manage your descent. Trim the aircraft to reduce control pressures. Once established on the downwind leg, complete your landing checklist.

Final airspeed varies widely due to remaining fuel load. Instead of using the airspeed indicator, refer to the angle-of-attack, or AOA indicator. There is an optimal AOA that results in the optimal approach airspeed, no matter what your aircraft's gross weight. The AOA indicator has a small array of colored lights atop the instrument panel.

If the yellow center 'o' is lit, you're 'on speed' or at the correct AOA. If the green upper chevron is lit, your airspeed is too slow—pitch the airplane nose-down a little to speed up. If the red lower chevron is lit, your airspeed is too fast—pitch the airplane's nose-up to manage speed. Control airspeed with pitch attitude and control rate of descent with the throttle.

Correct position at this point is off the ship's port side at about 1 to 1.25 miles. Begin your turn to final approach when abeam the stern of the ship. You should be on speed and trimmed up for hands-off flight.

Reduce the throttle while maintaining your AOA by small pitch angle changes so that the aircraft maintains a 250-foot-per-minute rate of descent. Maintain this regime until 90 degrees of turn from downwind. You should be descending through 450 feet, still on speed. Your rate of descent can now increase to 400-450 feet per minute.

At 45 degrees from the final heading you should see the "meatball," the optical carrier landing aid. This is a light array about 6 feet high just to the left of the landing area on the flight deck. It has a horizontal row of green lights, called the datum lights, and an orange light (the meatball) that rides up and down to indicate your position relative to the optimum glideslope.

As you reach your final approach heading, roll out of your bank. You should be established on the extended center line that runs down the landing area on the flight deck (remember that modern carrier landing areas are at an angle to the longitudinal axis of the ship).

On final approach (15 to 20 seconds from landing) an ideal carrier landing follows a 3-degree glide slope all the way to touch down. You see a centered meatball with no deviations, and airspeed is pegged at the optimum AOA. To maintain this you must make constant, rapid, small corrections.

DO NOT look at the landing area. Constantly shift your attention between the meatball, your line-up, and your AOA indicator.

Landing (carrier)

Fly the glide-slope until you contact the carrier deck. Impact is dramatic and, since your attention is on the meatball not the landing area, you should be surprised by contact with the deck.

The ship has four arrestor wires and, if you do it right, the point of your tailhook will hit in the middle of them (resulting in the term for an ideal landing—"3-wire").

Here's another surprise of carrier landings: at the moment of touchdown, smoothly and quickly advance the throttles to FULL!

It is possible for the hook to miss the arrestor wires. Even with a perfect approach, the hook can bounce over the wires (this is called a bolter). Jet engines take a few seconds to spool-up to full power, so you need to be at full power during a bolter in order to fly off the landing area.

Even at full throttle, the arrestor wires still stop the Hornet. In fact, you decelerate from 135 knots to a dead stop in about a second.

Once you've arrested, chop the power, raise the tailhook and taxi to a parking spot.