Hornets for NASA

Last revised September 20, 2015

In the mid to late 1980s, the Navy transferred eight F/A-18As and one F/A-18B to NASA to be used by the Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility for chase and proficiency flying. They eventually replaced all of the F-104 Starfighters that had previously been operated by NASA. NASA has also used its Hornets for a variety of research projects, the first of these being the High Alpha program begun in 1987 to study airflow surrounding the aircraft in high angle-of-attack attitudes.

In the 1990s, three more F/A-18s were transferred to NASA.

The Bureau of Aeronautics serials of the Hornets assigned to NASA were:

160780		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-2-MC Hornet
			to NASA as 840 in 1985 
160781		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B-2-MC Hornet
			to NASA as 845 in July 1986
161213		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-4-MC Hornet
			to NASA as 844.  Crashed 10/7/88
161214		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-4-MC Hornet
			to NASA as 842 in August 1987
161216		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-4-MC Hornet
			to NASA as 841 in October 1985
161217		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B-4-MC Hornet (Lot 3)
			to NASA as 852.
161250		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-4-MC Hornet
			to NASA as 843 in October 1987.
161355		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18B-5-MC Hornet (Lot 4)
			161355 to NASA as 846.
161520		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-7-MC Hornet
			to NASA as 847 in September 1989.
161703		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-8-MC Hornet (Lot 5)
			to NASA as 850.
161949		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A-12-MC Hornet 
			to NASA as 848 in December 1989.  

One of the F/A-18As (160780) was later converted into the HARV (High Alpha Research Vehicle) research aircraft, which uses high angles of attack using thrust vectoring, modifications to the flight controls, and forebody strakes. I also have evidence of an F/A-18 with a NASA number of 851, but I don't know the BuNo. Anyone out there?

A NASA F/A-18 was modified to demonstrate the Active Aeroelastic Wing technology, and was designated X-53 in Dec 2006.


  1. Flying the Frontiers--NACA and NASA Experimental Aircraft, Arthur Pearcy, Naval Institute Press, 1993.

  2. E-mail from Jan Evert Leeuw on NASA numbers.

  3. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_F/A-18_Hornet