Tag Archives: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

VX-23 Air Test & Evaluation Super Blues Transition Patch Emerges On eBay

The Blue Angels will Receive the F/A-18E/F in 2021. But testing of the Super Hornet is already underway.

As already reported, the Blue Angels will take delivery of the Super Hornets to replace their “Legacy” F/A-18C/Ds in late 2021 in time to work-up for the following airshow season.

However, the Boeing F/A-18E single seat and F/A-18F two-seat Super Hornet that will be flown by the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team will be fleet aircraft modified for airshow demonstration; they will feature biodegradable colored smoke injectors, fuel flow modifications to facilitate extended inverted flight and the addition of 7-pounds of forward hydraulic force on the control stick when maintaining level flight to improve the handling of the aircraft in turbulent, close formation flying.

Interestingly, the testing of the “new” Rhinos (as the Super Hornets are dubbed within the U.S. Navy – yes, exactly as the F-4….), is currently underway and according to our sources it is expected to be complete by the end of this year. The Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23), NAVAIR’s largest flight test organization based at NAS Patuzent River, MD, has already produced a patch that you can find on eBay here. Curiously, the “2016-2017” text suggests the VX-23 activities were completed last year even though the testing is currently underway: after investigating this a little, we have found out that the squadron ordered the patches back in 2017, before the testing was postponed to this year.

For this reason the official patch with the “wrong dates” has been around for some time and is probably going to become a collectors must!

Dealing with the VX-23 “Salty Dogs”, here are some details from the Naval Air Warfare Center webpage:

“The squadron’s mission is to support the RDT&E of fixed wing tactical aircraft by providing aircraft and pilot assets, maintenance services, safety oversight and facility support for these efforts. Primary areas of support include flying qualities and performance evaluations, shipboard suitability, propulsion system testing, tactical aircraft mission system testing, ordnance compatibility and ballistic efforts, reliability and maintainability assessments, flight fidelity simulation and flight control software development. The Squadron also provides Government Flight Representatives, test monitoring, chase aircraft support, and facilities for contractor demonstration, validation and development work involving tactical aircraft and associated systems.

The VX-23 workforce — officers (Navy, Marine Corps and foreign nationals), enlisted (Navy and Marine Corps), civilians and contractors — supports the aircraft maintenance, test planning and conduct, safety oversight and support of the squadron’s F/A-18A-D Hornets, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, and T-45A/C Goshawk aircraft, and the on-going contractor demonstration efforts with F-35B/C Lighting II aircraft. VX-23 is also supported by hundreds of flight test engineers and technicians provided by the Integrated Systems, Evaluation, Experimentation and Test Department and various contractors.

The squadron conducts more than 3,000 flight operations annually, totaling approximately 4,400 flight hours, much of which involves high-risk flight test. VX-23 conducts operations, both shore based and shipboard, locally at NAS Patuxent River and operates and maintains the TC-7 catapult and MK-7 arresting gear test sites.”

We will continue to follow the Super Blues Transition and provide more details as they becomes available.

Top image credit: ebay User “patchquest”

U.S. Navy Blue Angels to Get Super Hornets By The End of 2021

New, Larger Aircraft Will Change Display Routine, Add Range for Ferry Flights.

After several seasons of speculation, official U.S. Navy documents have revealed the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, The Blue Angels, will receive the larger, upgraded Boeing F/A-18E single seat and F/A-18F two-seat Super Hornet to replace their aging F/A-18C/D Hornets, by the end of 2021.

The news is exciting for several reasons. By the time the first full show season in the new Super Hornets (existing ones retrofitted into a Blue Angel aerial demonstration team configuration) arrives for the Blues , the team will have been in the existing version of the Hornet for 35 years. That’s a long time for a demonstration aircraft. Most current generation Blue Angel fans have never seen the team fly any other aircraft, so the upgrade to the Super Hornet adds an element of freshness and excitement to the team’s sensational display.

The legacy F/A-18C Hornets are beginning to show their age. (All images Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com unless stated)

Prior to getting their current F/A-18 Hornets the Blue Angels flew the small, single-engine Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. While the Skyhawk had an impressive combat record with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam conflict, the aircraft was quieter, smaller and more difficult to see during demonstrations. It was, however, a good choice for the team during the energy crisis of the late 1970s since the Skyhawk used less fuel.

But the A-4 Skyhawk lacked the visual and audible impact of its predecessor, the larger, smoky, twin-engine McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II flown by the team from 1969 until 1974. For a brief period both the Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds flew the F-4 Phantom II, with the Thunderbirds operating the F-4E version. The Thunderbirds transitioned from their F-4E Phantom IIs in 1974 also in response to the energy crisis when they opted for the smaller T-38 Talon trainer. Today the Thunderbirds use the F-16 Fighting Falcon single engine aircraft in two different versions.

The new F/A-18E and F Super Hornets will replace current F/A-18Cs like this one.

The upcoming change to Super Hornets means the Blue Angels remain America’s only twin-engine jet demonstration team. And, with the new, larger Super Hornets and their over 4-foot wider wingspan than the previous Hornet, the visual impact of the new demonstration routine will surely be striking.

Size comparison of current F/A-18C Hornet and larger, upcoming F/A-18E Super Hornet. (Drawing: Courtesy Aviation/StackExchange public forum)

The Blues will take delivery of the Super Hornets in late 2021 in time to work-up for the following airshow season. The aircraft to be flown by the Blue Angels will be fleet aircraft modified for airshow demonstration with biodegradable colored smoke injectors, fuel flow modifications to facilitate extended inverted flight and the addition of 7-pounds of forward hydraulic force on the control stick when maintaining level flight to improve the handling of the aircraft in turbulent, close formation flying. The aircraft are expected to maintain the current blue and yellow paint scheme that contrasts well against afternoon skies when the Blues fly most of their flight demos.

Some aviation photographers suggest the Blue Angels are easier to photograph than their USAF counterparts, the Thunderbirds, because the larger Blue Angel F/A-18s with their darker paint schemes contrast better against late afternoon airshow lighting conditions allowing modern DSLR autofocus systems to acquire the aircraft more easily in flight.

The visual contrast between the USAF Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels is striking. Notice that even in notorious flat light conditions the dark blue Blue Angels paint livery contrasts well with the sky background making observation and photography easy. (Photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

The Blue Angels will receive nine F/A-18E single seat and two F/A-18F two-seat aircraft for the team. The Department of Defense procurement order for the total of eleven aircraft indicates a program conversion cost for the aircraft to demonstration condition of $17,002,107.00 USD. Approximately 3 million spectators see the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during a typical airshow season of about 70 flight demonstrations at 30-35 separate locations around the U.S. and the world. That means if the Blue Angels use the new F/A-18E and F Super Hornets for the next 30 years potentially 90,000,000 viewers, many of them repeat fans, will see the Blues perform.

Flight Demonstration teams like the Blue Angels are critical recruiting and public affairs tools for the U.S. military. Many military aviators trace at least part of their career choice to inspiration from early exposure to one of the military demo teams. With the current pilot shortage in the U.S. military the demonstration team’s mission is more important than perhaps any phase in recent history.

Top image credit: U.S. Navy

The Return of “Iceman”: Val Kilmer to Appear in “Top Gun” Sequel

Studio Leaks Say Kilmer Will Join Tom Cruise in Anticipated Sequel Titled “Top Gun: Maverick”

Every Hollywood entertainment news outlet lit up on Wednesday night with the news that actor Val Kilmer would return in the highly-anticipated sequel film “Top Gun: Maverick”. Kilmer played U.S. Navy Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the original 1986 “Top Gun” film and will return in the same role.

The return of Val Kilmer as Iceman in the new film follows a two-year battle with throat cancer for the actor. Kilmer is also known for his role as Simon Templar in the 1997 film “The Saint” and for his role as Chris Shiherlis in the cult classic 1995 bank robbery film “Heat”, directed by Michael Mann. Val Kilmer was also widely recognized for a standout performance as singer and front-man Jim Morrison in the 1991 film “The Doors”.

Kilmer leaked his presence in “Top Gun: Maverick” with a post on his FB page, that appeared shortly after Tom Cruise published the first image of the sequel on Twitter on May 30, 2018. But Kilmer’s post remained online for just a few hours before it was cancelled (for unknown reasons).

According to Hollywood insiders the new film may focus on the emergence of remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) like the Navy’s X-47B and MQ-4C Triton and the end of the dogfighting era even though Tom Cruise responded “there gonna be jets” when asked about drones in a recent interview . And, as reported, the very first image about the new movie seems to suggest a major role for the USN F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Original “Top Gun” director Tony Scott told reporter Gregory Ellwood of HitFix in an October 2010 interview that, “This world fascinated me, because it’s so different from what it was originally. But I don’t want to do a remake. I don’t want to do a reinvention. I want to do a new movie.” Director Tony Scott committed suicide in August 2012. The new film will be directed by Joseph Kosinski. Kosinski is a relative newcomer as a director with three major films to his credit, “Tron: Legacy” from 2010, “Oblivion” from 2013 and “Only the Brave” from 2017.

In contrast to the late director Tony Scott’s 2010 remarks about the direction of any new sequel to the original film, lead actor Tom Cruise, Lt. (now Capt. based on the image published on Day 1 of production work) Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the movies, told Hollywood media that, “Aviators are back, the need for speed. We’re going to have big, fast machines. It’s going to be a competition film, like the first one…but a progression for Maverick.”

Lead actor Tom Cruise is a pilot himself, having earned a private pilot rating in 1994 and a commercial license in 1998 according to FAA records. He recently flew a helicopter (and performed a HALO jump from a UAE AF C-17) in the upcoming sequel film “Mission Impossible: Fallout” slated for U.S. release on July 27, 2018 in U.S. theatres. Cruise also clung to outside of an Airbus A400M Atlas in the 2015 film, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”. In the 2017 film “American Made” about real-life drug running CIA pilot Barry Seal, Tom Cruise actually was piloting an aircraft in all of the scenes that show him as pilot according to a 2017 article by Julia Bianco on looper.com. The film’s production was marred by a fatal crash during production that Cruise was not involved in.

The “Top Gun” sequel likely can’t come soon enough for U.S. military pilot recruiting. The frequently reported pilot shortage in all branches of the military continues to strain existing air crews. Author David Robb wrote in his 2004 book, Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, that “After the film’s release, the US Navy stated that the number of young men who joined wanting to be Naval Aviators went up by 500 percent.”

Production for “Top Gun: Maverick” began on May 30, 2018 at NAS North Island near San Diego, California. The release date for the film, being distributed by Paramount Pictures, has been projected as July 19, 2019.

Top image: Actor Val Kilmer will return in “Top Gun: Maverick” along with Tom Cruise. (Photo: Paramount)

U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet Crashes in Key West, Florida: 2 Reported Dead.

Aircraft Was from Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 213 On Routine Training Sortie. It’s the 14th major incident involving a Hornet of any variant since May 2016.

A U.S. Navy Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet two-seat combat aircraft crashed at approximately 4:30 PM EDT, Wednesday, March 14, 2018 near Key West, Fla. Both crew members are being reported as dead after being transported to Lower Keys Medical Center in Florida. Reports indicate the crew did eject from the aircraft prior to the crash. The aircraft was from Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 213 “Black Lions” based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. The aircraft went down one mile east of the runway on landing approach to Boca Chica Field, Naval Air Station Key West when the accident occurred.

Photos from the crash location show the aircraft with gear and hook down, upside down on the surface of water; other amateur shots show an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter hovering over the same area after the F/A-18F appears to have submerged.

According to an official statement released by the commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic, “Search and rescue crews were notified shortly after the crash where they recovered both the pilot and weapons systems officer from the water approximately one mile east of the runway. Both were taken by ambulance to Lower Keys Medical Center,” A later announcement read, “Both aviators have been declared deceased. Per Department of Defense policy, the names of the aviators are being withheld until 24 hours after next-of-kin notification.”

The Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet is a twin-engine, two-place multi-role combat aircraft widely used by the U.S. Navy primarily in the ground attack role. The aircraft is also being operated by the Royal Australian Air Force. It is a more advanced version of the original F/A-18 Hornet multi-role aircraft introduced by McDonnell Douglas.

Here’s what The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti wrote last summer when reporting about an F/A-18E of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 146  assigned to the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) that departed the runway during an emergency landing at Bahrain International Airport on Aug. 12, 2017 (the pilot successfully ejected):

Dealing with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet, four aircraft were lost (fortunately resulting in 0 fatalities) including the one lost last week: two VFA-211 F/A-18F jets from NAS Oceana collided and crashed 25 miles E of the Oregon Inlet, Nags Head, NC on May 26, 2016; earlier this year, on Apr. 21, 2017, a VFA-137 F/A-18E crashed during a landing attempt on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the Celebes sea, between Indonesia and the Philippines.

Legacy Hornets are crashing at an even more alarming rate: two U.S. Marine Corps F-18 Hornets from MCAS Miramar crashed on Nov. 9, 2016 near San Diego. Another F/A-18C crashed near USMC Air Ground Combat Cente, Twentynine Palms, on Oct. 25, 2016. A U.S. Navy F/A-18C belonging to the Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, Detachment Fallon, crashed on Aug. 2, 2016, 10NM to the south of NAS Fallon. On Jul. 27, 2016 a USMC F/A-18 belonging to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing crashed during a night strafing run on a weapons range near Twentynine Palms (killing the pilot). On Jun. 2 a Blue Angels Hornet crashed after taking off from Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport (KMQY), Smyrna, Tennessee: the only pilot on board was killed in the incident.

Aircraft may crash for a variety of reasons, not always technical ones. Still, the rate of Hornet crashes in the last years seems to be unusual and, as such, concerning.

According to a report published in September 2016 by Stars and Stripes, since 2012, the number of major Navy and Marine Hornet and Super Hornet accidents have increased by 44 percent as a consequence of sequestration and subsequent cuts in flight hours for training at home.

Moreover, F/A-18 Hornets of all variants have shown a steady yearly increases of what the Navy calls “physiological episodes” due to oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression since May 1, 2010, and the U.S. Navy has linked the deaths of four Hornet pilots that occurred over a span of 10 years to “physiological episodes” (PE). Such deadly incidents are not all the direct result an oxygen system failure but are linked by the fact that pilots experienced various symptoms that fall within the scope of a PE: dizziness, vertigo, oxygen shortage, blackouts, etc.

The Super Hornet incident in Bahrain was the second involving a Super Hornet in 2017, the fourth one since May 2016. But it was not the last one. In October 2017, a Spanish EF-18 Hornet, belonging to the Ala 12, crashed during take off from its homebase at Torrejon Air Base, near Madrid, killing the pilot. Then, in January this year, a Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, the electronic warfare variant of the Super Hornet, caught fire during take-off at Nellis AFB, Nevada while participating in the Red Flag 18-1 combat training exercise. Both crew members were uninjured in the incident.

Cockpit Video Shows F/A-18E Super Hornet Performing Case II Recovery With Low Visibility And Pitching Deck

Check out what happens inside the cockpit of a VFA-143 “Rhino” performing a Case II recovery procedure.

The footage below shows a recovery to the carrier in low visibility conditions of a Super Hornet (or “Rhino” as the aircraft is nicknamed aboard supercarriers) with the VFA-143 “Pukin Dogs” (based on the badge that can be seen on the pilot’s flight helmet).

Not as scary as a night landing, still quite interesting, considered that you can almost read the instruments and see all what the pilot does during the approach.

As explained before here at The Aviationist, all aircraft returning to the carrier have to enter the Carrier Control Aerea, a circular airspace within a radius of 50 nautical miles around the carrier, extending upward from the surface to infinity. Within the CCA, all traffic is usually controlled by the CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center) and inbound flights are normally in radio contact with the “marshal control” who radios clearances within the marshal pattern.

The actual procedure for holding and landing depends on the weather conditions.

Under Case I recovery (meaning more or less “good weather”, with ceiling of at least 3,000 feet and 5 miles visibility within the carrier control zone – a circular airspace within 5 miles horizontal radius from the carrier, extending upwar from the surface to 2,500 feet) the traffics wait their turn for final approach to landing circling in a holding pattern.

Case-II approaches are used when weather conditions are such that the flight may encounter instrument conditions during the descent, but visual conditions of at least 1,000 feet (300 m) ceiling and 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi) visibility exist at the ship. Positive radar control is used until the pilot is inside 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) and reports the ship in sight.

According to the NATOPS manual, under Case-II conditions: “Penetrations in actual instrument conditions by formation flights of more than two aircraft are not authorized. Flight leaders shall follow Case III approach procedures outside of 10 nm. When within 10 nm with the ship in sight, flights will be shifted to tower control and pro- ceed as in Case I. If the flight does not have the ship in sight at 10 nm, the flight may descend to not less than 800 feet. If a flight does not have the ship in sight at 5 miles, both aircraft shall be vectored into the bolter/waveoff pattern and action taken to conduct a Case III recovery for the remaining flights.”

For jets and turboprops the holding pattern is a left-hand pattern more or less tangent to the BRC (Base Recovery Course – magnetic heading of the ship) with the ship in the 3-o’clock position and a maximum diameter of 5 nm.
Aircraft circle at altitudes from 2,000 feet upward at various levels with a vertical separation of 1,000 feet.

Once the flight deck is free for landings, the lowest aircraft in the “stack”, leave its altitude to enter the landing pattern while the flights above, one by one, descend to the lower level vacated by the preceding flight.

In accordance with the EAT (Expected Approach Time) the aircraft depart the holding in such a way to reach the ‘”initial”, 3 miles astern at 800 feet altitude. Thereafter a “break” and a subsequent spin pattern is flown at 1,200 feet within 3 nm of the ship.

Aircraft in the landing pattern, properly separated (no more than 6 at any given time), continue to fly the downwind at 600 feet, perform base turn and align with the ship, astern at about 350 to 400 feet.

From there the Improved Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System (IFLOLS) lights provide the pilot with a visual indication of proper approach path.

[Read also: All you need to know about arrested landings on U.S. aircraft carriers]

Enjoy the video.