Fly an eye-catching Marine jet

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Written by Fitz Walker Horizon Hobby E-flite F-18 Hornet 80mm EDF BNF Basic with AS3X and SAFE Select As seen in the June 2020 issue of Model Aviation. Review

Bonus Video

RC MODELS OF THE F-18 HORNET are not new. In fact, it is arguably one of the more commonly modeled jets in recent times, which is no surprise. The F-18 has been in service since the early 1980s, used by a multitude of countries, and has been the jet of choice for the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatics team for more than 30 years.

Despite the prototype losing to the F-16 in early U.S. Air Force competitions, it has become the Navy’s premiere fighter/attack aircraft.

E-flite’s new 80 mm electric ducted-fan (EDF) model is not just another F-18 because it seeks to bring some unique flavors to the company’s version of this venerable fighter.

I pulled all of the pieces from the tightly packed box. The painted finish of the EPO foam is nicely done, and all of the decals are preapplied. The paint scheme features the colorful vertical fins of Marine Squadron 242, based in Iwakuni, Japan, and provides good contrast to the overall Ghost Gray paint scheme.

There are some impressive details in the molding with panel lines, antennae, cockpit instruments, and various stenciling, not to mention a generous load of weapon stores and fuel tanks. Most of these items are optional, except for a couple of small missiles that are permanently attached to the bottom of the fuselage. Non-glossy decals are a nice touch that add to the realism.

All 10 servos are preinstalled and feature metal gears for durability. Motivating thrust is via an 80 mm, 12-blade EDF mated to a 3270-size, 2,000 Kv inrunner motor. A screwed-in hatch on the bottom of the fuselage provides access to the motor and fan unit for maintenance. The supplied 100-amp ESC should provide plenty of overhead for aggressive flying.

removable weapons and drop tanks give the model character in the air
Removable weapons and drop tanks give the model character in the air.


Assembly starts with the horizontal stabilators, which are held in place with a retaining collar on each pivot shaft and a clever, manually adjustable servo pin-in-slot mechanism. The vertical stabilizers slide into a recess on top of the fuselage and are held in place with a pair of machine screws. I found those screws to be slightly difficult to install until I made sure the fins were pressed firmly into place.

The wing halves are affixed in a similar manner. Slide them firmly into place before screwing them in. Take care to make sure that the flap and aileron servo wires are not pinched in the process.

The wingtip and underwing armaments use keyed brackets that make installation and removal simple. Merely insert and slide all of the stores into place. Red and green LED navigation lights are embedded in the wingtips as well.

Total assembly of the F-18 is extremely quick. If it takes you more than an hour, then I would be surprised.

What really stands out with this model is the mostly metal landing gear. E-flite has done a good job of balancing the distinctive looks and articulation of the full-scale F-18’s undercarriage, while somewhat simplifying it for practicality in a small model. I spent several minutes just admiring the "nice legs" on the kit.

The electric retracts feature sequencing, servo-controlled nose doors, and spring-loaded main gear doors. There is even a simulated nose gear rear actuator strut that telescopes when the gear is raised and lowered. Except for the lack of doors to cover the main wheels, the entire setup is surprisingly accurate to the full-scale aircraft.

The BNF version I reviewed includes the Spektrum AR636 AS3X stabilized receiver with SAFE Select features. Using Spektrum’s transmitter setup guide, I programmed my Spektrum DX8 G2 transmitter according to the recommendations provided in the manual. Nearly all of the current and past lines of Spektrum radios are referenced in the setup instructions.

I had no issue obtaining the correct center of gravity (CG) with a 6S 5,000 mAh LiPo battery pack. In fact, I found the battery area in the fuselage quite cavernous, with ample room for battery positioning. A push-button latch provides a solid locking mechanism while still making it easy to remove the battery hatch.

The hatch is the entire cockpit section and features a single pilot bust (I guess the reconnaissance systems officer was taking the day off), dashboard detail, and what looks to be a small vent hole—presumably to keep the insides from overheating in the summer sun.


My first flight attempt had a rough start, both literally and figuratively, when I decided to visit my photographer’s home field instead of my own. His flying field is short-cut grass, which is in stark contrast to my field’s paved runway. One question that comes up often is how a particular EDF will do on grassy fields, so I thought it would make a good comparison with my normal, pampered flying site.

I failed to properly guesstimate how long the takeoff run would be in the grass and ended up overrunning the runway’s threshold into tall grass on my first failed takeoff attempt. As it turned out, I had made several known and unknown errors. Besides grossly underestimating the takeoff distance in grass, I did not use partial flaps, used low rates on the elevator, and also used the most forward CG location.

After restarting the takeoff run at the far end of the runway instead of the middle (why didn’t I think of that before?), I was able to get the F-18 successfully in the air after a run of 300 feet or so. Note that subsequent flights off of a paved runway showed that the F-18 takeoff run took roughly 100 feet.

only a few parts need to be assembled for flight
Only a few parts need to be assembled for flight.
the battery area in the f 18 is roomy
The battery area in the F-18 is roomy and allows for a range of battery sizes and CG locations.

Like most EDFs, it’s best to give the model a few moments to get on step immediately after liftoff, but when it was up to speed, the F-18 handled nicely. The default control throws were well balanced, and my first few laps around the field were spent making sure all of the trims were set. Definitely pay attention to the up-trim offset recommended in the manual because it is certainly needed.

I found the high-rate aileron throws quite nice with a quick, but not twitchy, roll rate, although the low rates were just fine and probably what most will want to try first. As I previously mentioned, the elevator low-rate setting is not optimal for grassy takeoff runs. In fact, I eventually increased the maximum throws to 20 mm instead of the recommended 16 mm.

Cruising speed is quick, but not blistering fast, with maximum speeds topping out at roughly 90 mph. The 12-blade fan produces a nice whooshing sound that is pleasant to listen to as it flies by. The model felt solid in the air, and I was quite comfortable zooming around and performing aerobatics and large loops at 2/3 power.

Even with the increased elevator throw and the CG pushed back to the rearward limit, I could really jerk the F-18 around with impunity and didn’t worry about the model doing anything unexpected. Inverted flying needed only a moderate amount of down-elevator compensation.

Vertical power is good, but not unlimited. Zooms from level flight go up approximately 500 feet before its speed bleeds off to zero. One of my vertical climbs to stall resulted in an entertaining semispin at the top, from which I quickly recovered. It will perform knife-edge flight fairly well, but there is some rudder-pitch coupling, so you will need to compensate with a bit of elevator input to maintain a steady track.

Testing the stall characteristics (starting high, of course) showed a benign response to a lack of sustainable airspeed, with only a small amount of wing rocking. There was no tendency to snap or aggressively fall off to one side or the other. This is not a model to be afraid of because I really couldn’t find any bad habits.

the articulated main landing gear has a large extension range
The articulated main landing gear has a large extension range, as does the full-scale F-18.
scalelike articulated landing gear does a great job of absorbing bumpy landings
Scalelike, articulated landing gear does a great job of absorbing bumpy landings.

Out of curiosity, I tested the SAFE mode option in flight. I’ve found that many people like to use this stabilization mode with their jets because of its built-in self-leveling and angle limits. SAFE mode worked fine the first time I tried it. I didn’t experience any issues or trim changes.

The preset bank angle limit was adequate to perform reasonable diameter turns. Elevator response was also fine throughout the whole flight envelope.

I generally preferred landing with partial flaps because that setting provides good lift-to-drag ratio. Full flaps allow a slightly steeper and slower approach but seem to wash out the elevator control somewhat at flare to touchdown.

The flap-to-elevator mixing recommended in the manual was mostly unneeded, and I ultimately eliminated most of it. Regardless of the flap setting, I found it best to keep a bit of power in through final approach and only fully cut the power just before the flair and touchdown. The articulated landing gear worked great and seemed to prevent excessive bouncing upon landing.

Using the recommended 5,000 mAh LiPo battery, I normally got approximately 4-minute flights with enough reserve for a go-around or two.

I should mention flying with the full weapons and fuel tanks load. Besides looking cool, they seemed to minimally affect the flight performance. Speed and the ability to perform aerobatics remained mostly unchanged, although there was a noticeable reduction in vertical performance. They did, however, give the F-18 quite a bit of character in the air. I always flew with the wingtip missiles on because no F-18 looks right without them.


The E-flite F-18 Hornet 80mm F-18 is an easy-flying model for a moderately experienced flier. It has great presence in the air. Ground tracking is stable and responsive on both grass and pavement.

Its refined finish and attractive features are bound to attract attention at the field. The stock power system provides good power and speed, while allowing for a variety of battery sizes.

E-flite’s rendition of the venerable F-18 Hornet is sure to please any fan.

the author has flown the f 18 from a grass field
The author has flown the F-18 from a grass field where it needed roughly a 300-foot takeoff run. On pavement, the F-18 can be airborne within 100 feet.

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