Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets Vol. II


In 2008, Boeing discussed the development of a Super Hornet Block III with the U.S. and Australian military, featuring additional stealth capabilities and extended range. In 2010, Boeing offered prospective Super Hornet customers the “International Roadmap”, which included conformal fuel tanks, enhanced engines, an enclosed weapons pod (EWP), a next-generation cockpit, a new missile warning system, and an internal infra-red search and track (IRST) system. The EWP has four internal stations for munitions, a single aircraft can carry a total of three EWPs, housing up to 12 AMRAAMs and two Sidewinders. The next-generation cockpit features a 19 x 11-inch touch-sensitive display. In 2011, Boeing received a US Navy contract to develop a new mission computer, as well as the full development of the Block III.

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In 2007, Boeing stated that a passive Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensor would be an available future option. The sensor, mounted in a modified centerline fuel tank, detects long wave IR emissions to spot and track targets such as aircraft; combat using the IRST and AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles is immune to radar jamming. In May 2009, Lockheed Martin announced its selection by Boeing for the IRST’s technology development phase, and a contract followed in November 2011. As of September 2013, a basic IRST would be fielded in 2016 and a longer-range version in 2019; sequestration cuts in 2013 caused two years of delays. An F/A-18F performed a flight equipped with the IRST system in February 2014, and Milestone C approval authorizing low-rate initial production (LRIP) was granted in December 2014.
Advanced Super Hornet
Boeing and Northrop Grumman self-funded a prototype of the Advanced Super Hornet. The prototype features a 50% reduction in frontal radar cross-section (RCS), conformal fuel tanks (CFT), and an enclosed weapons pod. Features could also be integrated onto the EA-18G Growler; using CFTs on the EA-18 fleet was speculated as useful to releasing underwing space and drag margin for the Next Generation Jammer. Flight tests of the Advanced Super Hornet began on 5 August 2013 and continued for three weeks, testing the performance of CFTs, the enclosed weapons pod (EWP), and signature enhancements. The U.S. Navy was reportedly pleased with the Advanced Super Hornet’s flight test results, and hopes it will provide future procurement options.
In March 2013, the U.S. Navy was considering the widespread adoption of conformal fuel tanks, which would allow the Super Hornet to carry 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of additional fuel. Budgetary pressures from the F-35C Lightning II and Pacific region operations were cited as reasons supporting the use of CFTs. Flight testing demonstrated CFTs could slightly reduce drag while expanding the combat range by 260 nautical miles (300 mi; 480 km). The prototype CFT weighed 1,500 lb (680 kg), while production CFTs are expected to weigh 870 lb (390 kg). Boeing stated that the CFTs do not add any cruise drag but acknowledged a negative impact imposed on transonic acceleration due to increased wave drag. General Electric’s enhanced performance engine (EPE), increasing the F414-GE-400’s power output from 22,000 to 26,400 lbf (98 to 117 kN) of thrust per engine, was suggested as a mitigating measure. In 2009, development commenced on several engine improvements, including greater resistance to foreign object damage, reduced fuel burn rate, and potentially increased thrust of up to 20%.

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In 2014, Boeing revealed a Super Hornet hybrid concept, equipped with the EA-18G Growler’s electronic signal detection capabilities to allow for targets engagement using the receiver; the concept did not include the ALQ-99 jamming pod. Growth capabilities could include the addition of a long-range infrared search and track sensor and new air-to-air tracking modes.
In September 2014, Boeing readied plans to close its St. Louis production lines for the Super Hornet and F-15 in 2017. Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, told the Wall Street Journal that, although “we’re still solidly behind them,” the company could have decided by April 2015 whether to shut down both assembly lines and close the factory, but chose to keep the Super Hornet line going. Due to various Pentagon contracts, Boeing had enough orders to keep things running into 2022 to give Boeing the opportunity to firm up more international orders.
Design
The Hornet and Super Hornet share many characteristics, including avionics, ejection seats, radar, armament, mission computer software, and maintenance/operating procedures. The Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft at about 20% larger, 7,000 lb (3,200 kg) heavier empty weight, and 15,000 lb (6,800 kg) heavier maximum weight than the original Hornet. The Super Hornet carries 33% more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41% and endurance by 50% over the “Legacy” Hornet. The empty weight of the Super Hornet is about 11,000 lb (5,000 kg) less than that of the F-14 Tomcat which it replaced, while approaching, but not matching, the F-14’s payload and range. As the Super Hornet is significantly heavier than the legacy Hornet, the catapult and arresting systems must be set differently. To aid safe flight operations and prevent confusion in radio calls, the Super Hornet is informally referred to as the “Rhino” to distinguish it from earlier Hornets. (The “Rhino” nickname was previously applied to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, which was retired from the fleet in 1987).
The Super Hornet, unlike the previous Hornet, is designed to be equipped with an aerial refueling system (ARS) or “buddy store” for the refueling of other aircraft, filling the tactical airborne tanker role the Navy had lost with the retirement of the KA-6D and Lockheed S-3B Viking tankers. The ARS includes an external 330 US gal (1,200 L) tank with hose reel on the centerline, along with four external 480 US gal (1,800 L) tanks and internal tanks, for a total of 29,000 lb (13,000 kg) of fuel on the aircraft. On typical missions a fifth of the air wing is dedicated to the tanker role, which consumes aircraft fatigue life expectancy faster than other missions.

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