Building the CF-188's

Unique external features

Tools 'n' Tips Article by Steve Bamford on July 11 2003



Often people ask...."What things do I have to change to make a Canadian F-18 or CF-18 or to be more correct a CF-188?".  Well.....I am far from being an expert on these planes, but I will do my humble best to address this question and back it up with a pile of photos.

First off.....the Canadian F-18's are correctly called CF-188's, but most folks just call them CF-18's.

Canada flies the CF-18A mostly as well as a handful of the CF-18B two seat trainers for training new pilots etc.  The Canadian fleet of CF-18's numbers roughly a bit over 100 aircraft.  Up until recently these planes had a primary role of air to air interception of Soviet bombers during the Cold War.  A handful of the A models have been fitted with FLIR pods to permit Canada to engage itself in various international roles where bombing missions are required.  FLIR pods are a very rare sight on CF-18's.  

So...lets get onto the details.

Search light

During the Cold War....the Soviet bombers would sometimes probe Canadian airspace at CF-188's were fitted with very bright spotlights to permit identification of the bomber at night.  Because this was "peace time" probing.......the CDN pilots could fly up....ride along side and flip on the a time of actual war this tactic might not have been used.  

Click on images below to see larger images

Some planes have had their spotlight removed since the end of the Cold War.  These planes have a plexiglas cover over the hole.  The cover is usually a opaque white colour......I've never seen these covers in clear plexiglas.  The pictures below seem to have a dark coloured opaque plastic....perhaps this cover is dirtier of weathered.  You'll have to check reference photos to determine if the plane you are modelling had the spotlight installed at the time in question......or just wing one will know. 

Click on images below to see larger images

The second most obvious feature is the "L" bracing at the base of the vertical stabilizers.  Getting good pictures of these is very tricky to do....I got lucky and was able to get some reasonable photos of these from a staircase parked at the rear of the plane....before security chased me off.    This L bracing was added at the same time as LEX Fences and is not an item unique to CF-18's.....but it is an item that is generally not included in F-18 kits. 

Click on images below to see larger images

Ejection seats

I'll add this info after I hear from someone about what type of seat is used in the CF-188's.  So please e-mail that info

Photos directly below were taken of a CF-18B cockpit.  

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forward seat’s cockpit area….this is identical to rear seat area except rear seat area doesn’t have a H.U.D. upper half of forward ejection seat.

rear ejection seat headrest (showing decals and seat detail very well) as well as area behind rear seat

If you are converting a F-18C to a CF-18A or B...then you will have to remove some antennas (bumps) from the forward half of the fuselage.  Refer to reference photos to below to figure out which ones to remove.  The antennas in the red box below in the photos to the far right are mostly the AN/ALQ-165 antennas.  They are found on both sides of the F/A-18C and is not found on either side of the CF-18A's or B's.  There is only one underside bump on the nose gear door on the F/A-18C.

Click on images below to see larger images




Another pair of AN/ALQ-165 antenna bumps can be found directly behind the canopy on the F/A-18C.  These two bumps are not found on the Canadian CF-18A's or B's.  See photos directly below.  The photos below aren't the best angle of these bumps....but they will give you a rough idea where to look.

Click on images below to see larger images

F/A-18C F/A-18C



Also note....the F-18A has a clear canopy as opposed to the slightly tinted canopy of the F-18C.  The C model has slight bronze or copper tint to the canopy which is impossible to properly capture with a camera.  The tinting on the F/A-18C canopy has something to do with reflecting radar signals (I think)'s purpose isn't too important for this article.....remembering to have clear canopies on the CF-18A's and B's is all you need to remember.

There is also an AN/ALR-67 antennae avionics item under the forward fuselage directly behind the nose cone.  This unit is called the "utter", because it looks like a tiny cow utter.  This is part of the AN/ALR-67 system.  Some CF-18's have this unit....some don' depends of the avionics package fitted to each individual aircraft.  Refer to reference photos or just wing 
it.....this is a very small detail.  The photo to the right doesn't show this item well....but look on your kit and you'll find it easy enough.  (See photo to right)

Another unique feature on Canadian aircraft is the position of the AN/ALQ-165 high-band transmitter antennae, located immediately in front of the AN/ALR-67 antennae.  The AN/ALQ-165 radome is offset slightly to the right side of the aircraft on CF-18s, whereas it's on the longitudinal centreline on American F-18s.  I have no idea why ours are different, but the installation is offset on every CF-18 I've seen, either firsthand or in photos.  It's a small detail, but one worth correcting in 1/32nd scale... the Academy kit has the antenna on the centreline.

Click on image below to see larger image

There is also an antenna in the top portion of the vertical stabs.  To convert a F/A-18C inot a simply remove this extra item.

Click on images below to see larger images



One final note on this is the fact there were different bumps at the top of the vertical stabs when the CF-18's were first delivered to Canada.

Above photos taken by Derek Heyes

LEX Fences

All CF-18's are fitted with LEX fences.  This item was an addition to the original Hornet design.  The LEX fences were designed to reduce fatigue on the vertical tails and increases the service life of the F-18.  I believe all other F/A-18's are being retrofitted with the LEX Fence to increase the service life of the aircraft. 

Click on image below to see larger image


The CF-18A has the same cockpit as the F/A-18A and the CF-18B two seat trainer has the same cockpit as the F/A-18B.  The rear cockpit on a CF-18B is the same as the forward cockpit, except the rear cockpit doesn't have a H.U.D.  As for differences between the CF-18A cockpit and the F/A-18C cockpit.....I'm not sure.  You'll just have to refer to reference photos in the walkaround section to figure out any potential differences.

The CF-18B is the 2 seat trainer, so it basically has 2 CF-18A cockpits.  If you want to build a 1/48 CF-18B....then the 1/48 Hasegawa F/A-18D is a good starting point, because the cockpit in this model is closer to a "B" version than a "D" version. 


In general.....CF-18's are kept quite clean.....more along the lines of the USAF fighters.  There are of course exceptions to this rule and I have seen the occasional CF-18 that is almost as patchy and dirty as a USN bird....but these dirty patchy CF-18's are the exception to the rule.

I'm sure I have missed some points and I'll refine this article as folks contact me and give me more info.  Contact me at

Steve Bamford



Very nice article on the CF-18. I thought I could offer a couple of points to help add some clarity:

- the outer glass window for the searchlight is never removed from the jet, only the searchlight itself. When the light is removed, a smaller replacement housing is bolted in place inside the door, with a protective cover for the glass on the inside of the door. I'm not sure what it's made of (never gave it that much thought while looking at the jet), but the colour obviously varies somewhat.

- the seats in the CF-18 are identical to the F-18A/B; Martin-Baker SJU-9/A for the CF-18A and rear of the CF-18B, and SJU-10/A for the front of the CF-18B. I know that seems wierd, but it has to do with seat ejection sequence and timings. Since the back seat goes first, it sequences the same as the single-seater.

- the harnesses are different from the American aircraft. US pilots walk to the jet with a harness on, and attach themselves to the parachute via the harness. CF-18 pilots walk to the jet and clip into a conventional harness and belt setup which is fully incorporated into the seat. This makes for a different-looking harness and belt setup, notably around the seat headrest.

- some of our jets (maybe your remaining A/Bs, too?) are getting some fatigue mods that show up as external strengthening plates, located on the dorsal hump straight up from where the main landing gear is mounted.

Just as a sidebar issue, in the CF-18 nose photos just after the cockpit shots, you can just make out the pilot's name, Capt K. Naismith, 'Nasty'. This is the CF-18 pilot who died in the June 2003 crash at 4 Wing Cold Lake.

For more information on the CF-18 details, please have a look at the material I put together for the IPMS Canada webpage:


Steve Sauvé- the searchlight is still a standard feature of the CF-18, specifically for the NORAD intercept role. It is a requirement for each CF-18 TFS' 'Q' jets to have the light installed and functional, as well as any back-up 'Q' jets the squadron has ready. It is quite possible, indeed even likely, that a given jet will have and then later will not have the light installed throughout the flying year.

Steve Sauvé
Ottawa, Canada

Photos and text © by Steve Bamford