(CBS News) The F/A-18 is a $40 million airplane and a workhorse for the Navy and Marine Corps. Known as the Hornet, it's a twin-engine, supersonic jet, that can fight in the air or attack targets on the ground.
The model that crashed has a crew of two: one aviator who flies and one weapons officer. It routinely launches from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean to carry out strikes in Afghanistan. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin has flown on a Hornet and gives us an idea of what it's like in that seat.
Before an F/A-18 ever takes off, the pilot and ground crew go through extensive checks to make sure all systems are go. We found that out firsthand two years ago when I rode in the back seat of an F/A-18 taking off from the same air base in Virginia.
We took off in a flight of two. And as my pilot Lt. Cdr. Jason Gustin explained, the first thing they do once airborne is check each other out.
"Typically right after we take off," said Gustin, "we just give each other a quick once-over and make sure there's nothing wrong with the airplane, like you hit a bird you didn't know about on takeoff."
Gustin was an experienced pilot who already had flown missions over Afghanistan and was practicing low-level strafing runs before going back for another tour. I was riding in the seat normally occupied by the weapons officer and was no help at all.
The only thing I had to learn was how to eject -- a relatively simple procedure -- pull the handle and tuck your arms and legs in tight so they don't get caught on the way out.
In a high-performance jet, everything happens very fast. The closer you are to the ground, the less time you have to react.