Walkaround videos are great. This one, featuring a Legacy F/A-18C Hornet of the Blue Angels, is simply amazing.
Lcdr Jerry “JD” Deren is a former U.S. Navy pilot. He spent 13 years in the service, nine of those flying the Hornet, both the A/C and D “Legacy” variants as well as the current “E” and “F” Super Hornet variants totalling 2,000 flight hours and about 325 arrested landings. In the last three years of this active duty career, “JD” joined the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flying #3 and #4 positions with the Blue Angels.
Therefore, there are few more qualified pilots than Lcdr Deren to provide a detailed walkaround tour of the F/A-18 Legacy Hornet, an airframe on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida, and displayed at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas Love Field, Texas.
The walkaround tour, filmed and produced by our friend Erik Jonhston provides a lot of interesting details, including some scarcely known ones. Among them, did you know that attached to the nose gear of the F/A-18 there are the angle of attack indicators? These lights are used by LSOs (Landing Signal Officers) who, from their station, have the ability to see these lights and have an indication whether or not the pilot is flying an on speed approach. USN pilots fly on speed angle of attack as opposed to indicated air speed. The reason is that in the F/A-18, 8.1 degrees is the optimum angle of attack. That AOA translates into the air speed that allows the pilot to better control the aircraft: “You’re not so slow that you’re close to stalling but you’re not so flat and fast that the hook has a good chance of skipping the arresting gear.”
Therefore, at 8.1 degree AOA, the center light, the amber one, is going to be lit up and the pilot has the same indication from the meatball on the left hand side of his peripheral vision.
Another little known detail mentioned in the video is that the max tire speed in the Hornet is 190 knots: while this is not a speed that a Hornet will reach with wheels down in carrier operations, it’s a limit that can be reached during high hot summer ops at NAS Fallon, Nevada, when the aircraft, with a significant payload, could reach 185 knots before nosewheel liftoff! BTW, 210 knots is the limit on the main mounts.
Ok, after an overview of the external probes, ladder, engine nozzles, wings, etc. you reach the 43 minute mark, where you start being introduced to the cockpit of the Bug!
“JD” provides a really interesting description of the primarily glass cockpit with multi-function displays of the F/A-18C that allow the pilot really to select and manage all modes everything from fuel transfer to systems troubleshooting to radar displays, ECM, all the stores and navigation pages. Interestingly, we learn that F-18 pilots are accused of being HUD cripples because there’s so much information available in the heads-up display, not only in instrument flight to approaches to the carrier but in air-to-air air-to-ground missions and what it allows the pilot to do is spend a lot more time with his head up and out of the cockpit: “we say you know get your head up out of the drill bucket and uh and get your eyeballs out because that’s where the threat is.”
The former Blue Angels fighter jock then explains the HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) switches on both the control stick and throttles, the various handles and also something that is missing from the airframe: a kind of an old school track and field stop watch mounted on the front panel that’s used by the solo pilots #5 and #6 along with visual checkpoints at 3, 2, 1 and 1/2 mile and specific Ground Speeds to try to get a perfect hit or cross right at the center of the display area.
Another interesting bit comes from a fun story “JD” recalls when showing the “grimes light” used for emergencies: in case the pilot experienced a dual generator failure some sort of total electrical failure the light is always able to be powered up so at least the pilot can turn it on, shine it on the standby gyro and at least he/she can have an attitude indicator and hopefully can get it back on deck. Typically US pilots will leave this stored and secured where it is, while in Australia they have a procedure for flying at night and that is to clip the grimes light in a position that if the pilot were to lose total electricity and turn it on it’s going to shine directly on the standby instrument so they’re not fumbling around and trying to get the light up there. Actually, that’s one thing that’s different about the RAAF Hornets and it’s their canopy switch which is guarded and sits right underneath the starboard rail, whereas the U.S. one is somewhat easy to access, because it’s not a guarded switch: if you for some reason reach it, you simply jettison the canopy.
One night, an Aussie exchange pilot was flying a bombing training run with some new F-18 pilots out in NAS Fallon. “As was his habit pattern, he rigged up the grimes light right where it’s supposed to be according to the Aussie standard operating procedures and we rolled in on the first dive and he dropped his bombs and per procedure did a real aggressive 4-5g pull out max power climbing away trying to get away from the frag pattern. But in doing so the grimes light was perfectly positioned in the wrong location: it rotated forward and the trailing edge edge clipped the canopy switch and as soon as that thing the seal broke and hit the wind stream it was gone. So he was in convertible mode very loud very dark couldn’t say anything hear anything. He was effectively NORDO [NO RADIO]. He did a great job of getting it back aboard but, uh needless to say, he had to alter his night flying uh procedures for the grimes light!”