Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Blue Angels’ Super Hornet.
As most of readers already know, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels are about to transition from the team’s current Boeing F/A-18C and D model aircraft to the larger and more capable Boeing F/A-18E and F Super Hornets. The plan, outlined in 2018, was to perform the last season (or what remains of it considered the airshow cancellations) with the existing “Legacy” Hornet and fly the new aircraft during the 2021 show season.
The Blue Angels should receive 18 Super Hornets, including two F/A-18F two-seat jets. Aircraft belong to the early Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) runs, meaning they are among the oldest Super Hornets in the fleet. In fact, it is the practice of the Blue Angels (and other display teams around the world) to adopt and refurbish high-flight time aircraft for use in their team to keep the newest aircraft in frontline service. For instance, as reported, one of the two single-seat F/A-18E Super Hornets used in the flying sequences of “Top Gun: Maverick”, bureau number 165667, a Boeing F/A-18E-53-MC Lot 22 Super Hornet from the Low-Rate Initial Production run 2 (LRIP 2) was among the first aircraft being converted to the Blue Angels configuration. In fact, along with the iconic blue and yellow paint scheme, the aircraft destined to the Blue Angels need a significant reconfiguration: work includes the removal of the M61A2 cannon and the installation of the smoke generation systems.
The first F/A-18E in Blue Angels livery has recently rolled out at Cecil Field, Jacksonville, and here are some exclusive photographs kindly provided by our friend @mr_roberts_203.
The aircraft depicted in the photos is believed to be BuNo 165536, the first of the two Top Gun’s “hero jets” to be delivered to Jacksonville for the modifications. It has not been given a team’s tail number.
While the new aircraft are being prepared for next year’s season, the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration team continues to take part in America Strong flyovers (alongside the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds) across the U.S. with the F/A-18C.
For those who don’t remember the differences between the Legacy and the Super Hornet, here’s an excerpt from a past article we published here at The Aviationist:
As most readers know, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is significantly different from the aircraft many now refer to as the “Legacy Hornet”. While the Navy has transitioned away from the older versions of the Hornet to the new Super Hornet, the U.S. Marine Corps (and some residual USN units) still fly a significant number of F/A-18C Hornets.
According to the official Blue Angel page, “The Super Hornet is 25% larger, can fly 40% further, remain on station 80% longer and carry more weapons than its predecessors. The Super Hornet F/A-18 E/F models have deployed with battle groups since 2001.”
More specifically, the new F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet has a wingspan that is 4’ 3.6” wider than a legacy Hornet- over four-feet more wingspan. The Super Hornet is also 4’ 3” longer than the Hornet and sits nearly one-foot higher at the top of its twin tails. These larger dimensions may make the new Blue Angel Super Hornets even easier to see and photograph at demonstrations.
Update: a previous version of this story included a top image that was a close up photograph of the aircraft in its new paint job. We were contacted the by the public affairs officer for Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, Florida who explained that the photo was taken by one of their employees who violated their internal camera/photo taking policy and took photos of an aircraft, then subsequently released them on social media. Since they were not cleared for release we were asked to take down that photo. We have complied with the request, even though that photo can still be found around in the web and especially in tweets and FB previews. The PAO is well aware of this.