Monday, June 6, 2011

CF-18s and their replacements

Since as young as I can remember, I have loved airplanes, fast airplanes.   This means fighter planes, an odd passon for a pacifist, but we are all full of contradictions.   I have been long interested in the progression of the fighter jet development.   Because of this I have been watching the development of the fifth generation fighters and wondering what Canada will do and then seeing the government unilaterally chose the F-35.

I was not quite 12 when Canada started the process of looking to replace the CF-104 Starfighter, the CF-101 Voodoo and the CF-5 Freedom Fighter.   To my young eyes, the planes to be replaced looked old, other than the CF-5s, but when the process to find a new fighter started in 1977, the Starfighters and Voodoos were 16 years old and the CF-5s were 8 years old

I remember going to the Abbottsford Airshow in the late 70s and seeing all the replacement options under consideration - the F-14, F-15, F-16, F18, Tornado and Mirage F-1.

The F-1 was the oldest plane on offer and the Mirage 2000 was offered but too late for the procurement cut off date.  There is still one French squadron in use, though most F-1s are retired.   The Mirage 2000s are also all close to retirement.

The Tornado, F-14 and F-15 were all considered too expensive and dropped for that reason.   Canada almost ended up with the F-14.   After the Iranian revolution the government negotiated with the new regime to buy the F-14s Iran had and was unlikely to get spare parts for, this fell apart after Canada helped several US diplomats escape the country.

In the end, only the F-18 and F-16 were under consideration last time around.   It was considered an important aspect of the plane to have two engines to deal with an engine failure on patrol over the north. The F-16 only has one engine so that knocked it out.

Canada started to get the CF-18s in 1982 with the final one arriving in 1988.   Canada replaced a total of 370 Starfighters and Voodoos with 138 CF-18s.   By 1995 the CF-5s were also phased out, another 135 fighter planes.

Currently the oldest CF-18s are 29 years old and the newest ones are 23 years old.   This is dramatically older than fighter planes have been historically in Canada.  The Starfighters managed to make it to 25 years old, the Voodoos to 24 years, the CF-5s to 27 years.   The first generation of fighters lasted an even shorter period.

The F-86 Sabre, in three versions, made it to about 8 years of frontline service for Canada  - the RCAF went through 1087 in that time.

The CF-100 Canuck did not last much longer in frontline service.   639 of them served between the mid 1950s and early 1960s in frontline service.


  • Generation 1 - 8 to 10 years frontline service and close to 1800 of them in use.
  • Generation 2 - 24 to 27 years service and 505 total aircraft
  • Generation 3 - 23 to 29 years old now and will be about 33 years old when retired - a total of 138 aircraft purchased but only 80 are currently operational and fully up to date.
  • Generation 4 - not in service yet - 65 to be purchased


The length of time the planes were in service lengthened each time and the number of planes dropped in each generation.   65 F-35s does not allow for many planes to be lost over time.   18 of the CF-18s purchased have been lost in accidents.   With only 65 to start with, there is not a lot or spare capacity for any loses.

Honestly, by the time the Canadian Forces are fully switched over to the F-15 F-35 in 2020, the era of a human piloted fighter airplane will be over.
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