Those who work in the airshow industry have heard rumblings of this for the past couple years, but it appears as though the long-held speculation has turned into fact: the US Navy has started the process to replace the Blue Angels’ existing stable of woefully aging Legacy jets with Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornets.
According to a recently-released document, Boeing which purchased McDonnell Douglas–the original designers of the F/A-18, will produce the required design modifications needed for a Super Hornet configuration specific to the Blue Angels. The proposal, entitled “Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels) Super Hornet Conversion,” covers the entire proposal and requisite changes.
The Blue Angels currently field a hodge-podge collection of both single-seat A and C-Model Hornets, as well as two-seat B and D-Models. Access panels departed Blue Angel jets during demonstrations earlier this year, a week apart in late May and early June.
The Legacy Hornet became the chosen aircraft for the Blues in 1986, and since 2010, newer C/D Hornets have been arriving to replace the older As. Even so, the jets are tired and aging out, prompting the Navy to look at the Rhino option.
A variety of changes, mostly internal, would need to be made to the Supers before they would be suitable for duty with the Blue Angels: First, the gun would need to be removed and replaced with both the reservoir and various tubes and pipes for the smoke system, which also has a pump near the tail to actually dispense the liquid into the hot exhaust to produce the smoke. The aircraft also require inverted fuel pumps for maneuvers requiring sustained inverted flight. In the cockpit, a constant-tension spring is added to the control stick to provide a better pilot-vehicle interface (PVI) while flying in such close proximity and unusual attitudes.
With the exception of the name and design lineage, the Super Hornet is a much different aircraft than its predecessor. It is approximately twenty percent larger and carriers more than thirty percent more fuel internally, greatly increasing range and mission endurance. It is also more than three tons heavier empty and nearly eight tons heavier fully loaded.
The Super Hornet also features a fuselage stretched nearly three feet to accommodate more fuel, avionics, and twenty-five percent increase in wing area. It has larger motors which produce more thrust, as well as square intakes versus the round on the Legacy Hornet. Most noticeable are the leading edge extensions, which help improve high-Alpha performance and facilitate pretty awesome pitch rates–in excess of forty degrees per second.
The team has kept the smaller Legacy jets because of their snappy handling and awesome thrust-to-weight ratio. The Super Hornet is a larger, heavier jet, so it will undoubtedly take a bit of time to really dial in the routine while taking those Limiting FACtors (LIMFACs) into consideration.
Ultimately, we’ll wait and see what the Navy does, but anticipate seeing the signature Blue and Gold paint on F/A-18Es at an airshow near you in the next couple of years!