The Naval Air Systems Command (in short NAVAIR) announced that the US Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron (USNFDS) Blue Angels will get eighteen early-production F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as the next flight demonstration aircraft.
Aviation magazine Scramble reported on its Facebook page: as many as eighteen low-rate initial production (LRIP) Super Hornets will be assigned to the team and then painted in the iconic blue from the show in 2021.
The cost associated with the Blue Angels’ transition to the Super Hornet can be broken down into non-recurring engineering (NRE) work to design and incorporate a “kit” of all the necessary components such as the smoke system into the aircraft (USD 24 million), kit procurement (USD 17 million) and the cost to modify the aircraft through the kit installation and paint (USD 2.7 million per aircraft).
Transitioning from the Hornet to the eighteen LRIP Super Hornets will take an estimated five years. The US Navy began the transition in 2016 and has already completed the NRE portion of the process. Kits were purchased in fall 2018.
Currently, the flight profile for the Super Hornet aerial demonstration is being developed by former Blue Angels pilots at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWC-AD) manned flight simulator (MFS) at NAS Patuxent River (MD). This is done within Phase One. Phase Two will begin with delivery of the first two modified Super Hornets, which will be flown by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 test pilots and former Blue Angels pilots to validate manoeuvers being set up in Phase One.
The Super Hornet is expected to improve safety margins, reduce aircraft fatigue and require less maintenance. Plus, the Super Hornet’s mission software will be customized to display tailored information to Blue Angels pilots as they execute their precision manoeuvers. This information will reduce the cockpit task load.
The LRIP aircraft are aircraft which have not flown in years or are obsolete from a warfighting or fleet training perspective. These aircraft do not impact the way the Blue Angels employs the aircraft, the differences are when it comes to designing a demonstration with the lift and drag, and additional thrust-to-weight ratios, roll rates, better vertical and looping performance of the E/F. The flight programme must be adapted to the new aircraft, for example, the Hornet can fly up sixty seconds inverted while the Super Hornet has been cleared to fly forty seconds thus far. Using the MFS, test pilots have figured out how to reduce the inverted durations for the show while preserving the quality of the manoeuvers.
The Blue Angels can not say yet how the flight demonstration will change, the show itself will likely be shortened a few minutes, which helps reduce airframe fatigue, reduce pilot fatigue and this aligns with a request from the air show industry.
Photo: US NAVY
To allow time for the pilots and maintainers to train and qualify on the upgraded platform, the US Navy plans to shorten the end of the 2020 show season and delay the start of the 2021 season. This extra time is allotted for the squadron to complete the standard “safe-for-flight” process and inspections that all fleet squadrons undergo. It will take the first team that trains and flies a full season in the Super Hornet to fine-tune the Super Hornet demonstration. The Blue Angels will conduct their normal training winter cycle in Pensacola (FL) and El Centro (CA), in preparation for the 2021 season.
The Blue Angels currently fly the oldest legacy Hornets in the US Navy’s inventory, and the service life of several will expire during the 2021 show season. The US Navy cannot replace these aircraft with other Hornets without taking warfighting assets from the US Marine Corps, US Navy Reserve or the US Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC), according to Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA).
With the Blue Angels’ baby Hornets nearing their life limits, it is expected that most will be preserved and on display around the country. The specific plan for each airframe will be determined over the next two seasons.
Report credit: NAVAIR Andrea Watters