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The CF-18 Hornet entered service in 1982, when the Canadian Forces began to deploy a total of 138 aircraft. With the spotlight on the aircraft's age and the federal government's program to replace it, the Globe looks at its service history and capabilities, and at some of the aircraft previously used as the air force's front-line fighters.

Tony Gentile / Reuters

McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet

The CF-18 is based on the F/A-18 platform and is designed for multiple roles and missions, depending on weapons and configuration. It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 (1,814 km/h) and a range of 3,330 kilometres. It is capable of climbing at a rate of 50,000 feet/minute (250 metres/second).

The aircraft’s main cannon is a 20mm Vulcan gun capable of firing up to 6,000 rounds per minute. It can also carry air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles as well as laser-guided bombs.

The CF-18 has undergone a number of modernizations and upgrades designed to enhance its capabilities, in particular to its electronics, missile armament, and radar. Entering service in 1982, it has been Canada’s primary fighter aircraft for more than 30 years.

File, March 1961

Canadair CF-104 Starfighter

The CF-104 Starfighter was a modification of a 1954 fighter design from Lockheed which entered service with the Canadian armed forces in 1962. It was designed as an interceptor aircraft, but was also used in low-level strike and reconnaissance roles.

The aircraft had a maximum speed of 1,844 km/h and a range of 2,630 kilometres. It carried a 20mm Vulcan cannon and could be adapted for its various roles with external armaments.

While Canadair initially produced 200 CF-104s for the Canadian military, the aircraft had a checkered performance record. While it was the fastest aircraft ever used by the RCAF, some pilots complained about its unforgiving flight characteristics and lack of manoeuvrability at low levels. More than 100 Starfighters were lost to accidents, prompting air force personnel to tag the plane with the nickname “Widowmaker.” They were finally retired in 1986.


McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo

The CF-101 Voodoo entered Canadian service in 1961, in part as a result of the cancellation of the Avro Arrow program. It was designed as an all-weather interceptor aircraft and was intended to replace the RCAF’s obsolete Avro CF-100 Canuck.

The Voodoo’s primary armament was the unguided, nuclear-tipped Genie air-to-air missile. Political controversy over the introduction of nuclear weapons to Canada meant, however, that the Voodoo would be armed only with secondary Falcon air-to-air missiles, which were produced in both heat-seeking and radar-guided variants.

The Voodoo carried a crew of two. Its maximum speed was Mach 1.72 (1,825 km/h) and it had a range of 2,450 kilometres. Most of the Canadian Voodoo fleet was phased out by the end of 1984.

NORAD File, December 1958

Avro CF-100 Canuck

The CF-100 Canuck fighter/interceptor was the first fighter to be designed and mass-produced in Canada. Designed to intercept Soviet bombers, it entered service with the RCAF in July, 1952, and was phased out in December, 1981.

The twin-engine CF-100’s short takeoff run and high climb rate made it an effective interceptor. It had a maximum speed of almost 890 km/h and a range of 3,200 kilometres, and carried two wingtip rocket pods which could be replaced with auxiliary fuel tanks when the aircraft was tasked with reconnaissance and electronic-warfare roles. It was replaced in its frontline role by the Voodoo.

Deddeda Stemler for Globe and Mail

Canadair Sabre

Based on the F-86 Sabre, the Canadair Sabre was selected as an air-defence aircraft for the RCAF in 1948 and initially designated the CL-13. From 1950 to 1958, a total of 1,815 were built at the Canadair facility in Montreal. It was considered one of the best combat aircraft of its era.

Entering service in 1950, the Sabre was built in six variants, which included incremental upgrades in structure, manoeuverability, and armament. The final operational variant, the Mk. 6, had a maximum speed of 1,142 km/h and a range of 2044 kilometres. It carried six 12.7mm Browning machine guns with a total of 1,602 rounds of ammunition and could be equipped with rocket launchers, air-to-air missiles and various bomb payloads, including tactical nuclear weapons.

The Sabre was operated by the RCAF, but was also supplied to the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, and the German Air Force. It was replaced in its combat role by the Starfighter in 1962, but flew with the RCAF until 1974.

Sources: Wikipedia, Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, The Museum of Flight, The Canadian Starfighter Association