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.