Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
Last revised April 17, 2000
Written by: Joseph Baugher
On January 7, 1991, the troubled General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II attack aircraft was cancelled. McDonnell Douglas immediately proposed an an alternative a stretched version of the F/A-18 optimized for the attack role. Although it was essentially a new aircraft, it was assigned the designation F/A-18E (single seat) or F/A-18F (two-seat), implying that the proposal was merely a modified version of an already tried and true design.
The F/A-18E/F was an outgrowth of the Hornet 2000 design study of the 1980s. The F/A-18E/F is designed to perform some of the duties originally planned for the F-14D and the A-12. One of the more important goals of the project is a 40 percent increase in the Hornet's range, which is often quoted as the Hornet's primary weakness.
In order to provide more space for internal fuel, an extra fuselage plug is added, increasing the overall length of the F/A-18E/F by 2 feet 10 inches. Over that of the F/A-18C/D. The wing is proportionally enlarged by 25 percent, with an increase in wingspan of 4 feet 3 1/2 inches and an increase of 100 square feet in area. The increase in wing size is accompanied by a deepening at the roots to take extra loads. The new wing has no twist or camber and is stressed for extra operating weight. The wing of the F/A-18E/F has an outboard leading edge chord extension, leading to a definite ""dogtooth"" which is not present on the F/A-18C/D.
By enlarging the wing area and adding a fuselage plug, 3,000 pounds of additional fuel can be carried, which is 33 percent more than the capacity of the standard Hornet. A fleet air defense F/A-18E/F carrying four AMRAAMS, two AIM-9s and external tanks would be able to loiter on station for 71 minutes at a distance of 400 nautical miles from its carrier, as opposed to only 58 minutes for the F-14D.
The F/A-18E/F is provided with two extra underwing hardpoints (Nos 2 and 10) at about two-thirds of span, outboard of the existing pylons. This raises the total external stores carriage capability to 17,750 pounds. The gross weight is increased by about 11,600 pounds. The aircraft has a higher landing weight, which allows it to return to its carrier with an increased weight of unexpended ordnance (up to 9000 pounds).
Increased space for chaff and flares is provided. The increase is from 60 to 120 canisters. A simplified and strengthened undercarriage is to be fitted, enabling takeoff weights as high as 66,000 pounds.
The F/A-18E/F will be powered by a pair of uprated General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans. The F414 engine is in the 20,000 to 22,000 lb.s.t. class, offering 35 percent more thrust than the F404 from which it is derived. It incorporates some of the features intended for the F412, the powerplant of the now-cancelled A-12.
A completely re-designed engine air intake of trapezoidal configuration replaces the D-shaped intakes of the earlier Hornets. These intakes will provide 18 percent more air to the uprated engines and will give better performance at high speed.
The area of the twin vertical fins is increased by 15 percent. The rudder area is increased by 54 percent and the range of movement is such that they can be deflected 10 degrees more, up to 40 degrees. The tailplane will be made of improved composites, and the area of the tailplanes is increased by 36 percent. The areas of the leading edge root extensions was increased by 34 percent in order to restore the degree of maneuverability at 30-35 degree angles of attack enjoyed by the current Hornet.
Some stealth technology will be incorporated in the F/A-18E/F, notably on the wing leading edges to augment the beneficial effect of skinning with large areas of carbon epoxy. The radar cross section is expected to be approximately that of the F-16.
The radar is to be the Hughes AN/APG-73 that is used by later-build F/A-18Cs. The single seat F/A-18E will have the 5 x 5-inch central display of the F/A-18C replaced by a new 8in x 8in flat panel active matrix LCD. The two other 5in x 5in multipurpose CRT screens are retained, as is the existing HUD, except that the control panel just below it will be replaced by a monochrome touch-sensitive screen. All displays (two CRTs, one color LCD, and one monochrome LCD) will be made by Kaiser. The rear cockpit of the F/A-18F will have identical instrumentation, except that it has no HUD and the 8in x 8in screen is located above the landscape-format touch screen.
The definitive F/A-18E/F development contract was signed on December 7, 1992. It calls for three static test airframes, five F/A-18Es, and three F/A-18Fs. McDonnell Douglas opened the F/A-18E/F assembly line in St Louis on September 23, 1994. Production of the center/aft fuselage began in May 1994 at Northrop Grumman in Hawthorne, California. The Navy has assigned the name Super Hornet to the project. The prototype F/A-18E Super Hornet (BuNo 165164) was rolled out on September 18, 1995 at St. Louis. It took off on its first test flight on November 29, 1995, with McDonnell Douglas project test pilot Fred Madenwald at the controls. Aside from a minor environmental control system indication, the aircraft handled well on its first flight.
Ten test arcraft were scheduled to be built, seven of which will be flight test aircraft (five Es and two Fs) and the other three will be ground test articles. The flight test program was scheduled to begin in February 1996 at the Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) at Patuxent River, Maryland.
Acquisition of an initial production batch of 12 (named Low-Rate Initial Production I, or LRIP I) was planned for Fiscal Year 1997, with assembly of the first production aircraft to begin in 1998 and service entry due in 2001.
The type will replace early F/A-18As and other USN/USMC tactical aircraft as they are retired. Peak production is to be 48 aircraft year, which should be reached in 2001. As many as a thousand F/A-18E/F Super Hornets may eventually be purchased, at a total cost of 49 billion dollars, in a program lasting until 2014.
Some critics accuse the F/A-18E/F for providing not much more than an increased range and a larger bring-back weight for such a high cost. In addition, it is essentially a non-stealthy aircraft that will have to fly in a combat environment in which low-observability will be increasingly vital for survival.
the first landing by the Super Hornet aboard an aircraft carrier took place on January 18, 1997, when an F/A-18F landed on the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74). Carrier trials began after flight testing was suspended briefly in December 1996 when a test aircraft experience a compressor stall.
The first production Super Hornet (BuNo 165533) flew for the first time on November 9, 1998. This was the first of a dozen low-rate initial production Super Hornets.
A problem was encountered with ""wing drop"" during test and evaluation, which caused Secretary of Defense William Cohen to threaten to suspend further funding of the project unless it was fixed. However, the addition of a porous wing-fold fairing seems to have fixed the problem, and cleared the way for the Navy to award Boeing a contract for the second low-rate initial production contract (LRIP II) for 20 aircraft in the FY 1998 budget. These were scheduled for delivery by October of 2000.
Fiscal year 1999 budget included 30 aircraft (14 single seaters and 16 two-seaters), which were scheduled for completion in September 2001.
Beginning on May 27, 1999, the F/A-18E/F underwent operational evaluation with VX-9 at NAS China Lake, California. Seven production model Super Hornets went through an exhaustive series of tests to assess the aircraft's capabilities in operational missions. Three single seaters and four two-seaters were involved.
The first operational unit to get the Super Hornet was VFA-122, based at NaS Lemoore, California. This unit received their first seven planes on November 17, 1999 when they flew in from NAS China Lake after completion of the operational evaluation phase.