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Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet Carrier-based Strike Fighter Aircraft (1999)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 2/14/2015

The Boeing FA-18 Super Hornet multirole fighter represents the next evolution for the Hornet series of carrier-based aircraft in service with the USN and Australia.

The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 "Hornet" carrier-borne fighter line of the United States Navy (USN) proved a largely successful replacement for the Vietnam War-era strike fighters and attack platforms when it was introduced in 1983. Both single-seat and twin-seat variants emerged as well as improved variants a short time later. However, the system was not devoid of limitations for its common criticisms included limited operational ranges and limited ordnance-carrying capabilities. This gave rise to an evolution of the mark which became the definitive F/A-18 "Super Hornet" series, a model different enough from the original to be considered a largely new, stand-alone multi-role aircraft. The familiar "F/A-18" designation was retained to help push the product through the American bureaucratic circles.

Origins of the Super Hornet began in the 1980s as a design study undertaken by McDonnell Douglas for an improved F/A-18 even before the original Hornet had entered service. The product gained considerable steam with the USN's loss of the other McDonnell Douglas product - the A-12 "Avenger II", a triangle-shaped, carrier-based stealth bomber - which languished in development and ballooned into an unforgivable monster for the service (its related legal issues were not officially resolved until 2014). Additionally, the expensive and complicated Grumman F-14 Tomcats in use were primarily for fleet defense and did not receive their ground attack capabilities until late in their service careers. The new McDonnell Douglas initiative took the existing F/A-18 airframe and extended its wing mainplanes while lengthening the fuselage for additional internal fuel stores and more advanced flight and combat systems. The nine hardpoints of the original design were now increased to eleven in the new - retaining the original's wingtip rail launchers and underfuselage positions. By and large, the external profile of the F/A-18 Super Hornet mimicked much of the established lines of the original McDonnell Douglas offering just in a larger, heavier, and more advanced package. A key defining physical feature of the Super Hornet is in the redesigned air intakes which are rectangular compared to the original's oval-shaped openings.

Convinced of the merits of this evolved, in-budget "off-the-shelf" solution, the USN contracted for development and ultimate serial production of the Super Hornet in 1992 to which the U.S. Congress approved. First flight of a prototype was on November 29th, 1995 and serial production then followed in 1995 with testing ongoing into 1997. During that year, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing completed a merger which saw Boeing come out on top, with the McDonnell Douglas name held onto as a subsidiary. Therefore, the Boeing brand label is commonly associated with the Super Hornet product today. Service introduction of the F/A-18E/F formally began in 1999.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet today operates on U.S. Navy carriers alongside its original F/A-18 Hornet single-seat and two-seat forms - the A-4 Skyhawks, A-7 Corsairs, A-6 Intruders, F-4 Phantom IIs, and F-14 Tomcats are long-gone and, as a multirole fighter design, the Super Hornet fulfills their myriad of combat roles including all-weather day/night strike, fleet defense, air defense suppression, interception, reconnaissance, Close-Air Support (CAS), and precision strike. Additionally, the Super Hornet has gone on to replace special mission aircraft such as the S-3 Viking and EA-6B Prowler. The Super Hornet - like the Hornet before it - has appeared in two distinct forms - the F/A-18E variant is the single-seat model while the F/A-18F features a crew of two. The "Block II" initiative has added an Active, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar suite, helmet-mounted targeting, and a revised cockpit instrument panel to promote broader, more modern battlefield usefulness.

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Specifications for the
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet
Carrier-based Strike Fighter Aircraft

Focus Model: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Boeing Corporation / McDonnell Douglas - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1999
Production Total: 500

Crew: 1 or 2

Length: 60.07 ft (18.31 m)
Width: 44.69 ft (13.62 m)
Height: 16.01ft (4.88 m)
Weight (Empty): 30,565 lb (13,864 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 47,003 lb (21,320 kg)

Powerplant: 2 x General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines generating 22,000lbs of thrust with afterburner.

Maximum Speed: 1,187 mph (1,911 kmh; 1,032 kts)
Maximum Range: 680 miles (1,095 km)
Service Ceiling: 49,213 ft (15,000 m; 9.3 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 44,890 feet-per-minute (13,682 m/min)

Hardpoints: 11 (including wingtips)
Armament Suite:
1 x 20mm M61A1 Vulcan Gatling-style internal cannon
2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles on wingtip launchers

Mission-specific ordnance limited up to 17,750lbs may include any of the following:

AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles
AIM-120 AMRAAM - air-to-air missiles
AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles
AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles
AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles
LAU Multiple Rocket Launcher
AGM-154 JSW (Joint Standoff Weapon) bombs
Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs
B61 Nuclear Dumb Bomb
Paveway Laser-Guided Bombs (LGB)
Mk 80 General Purpose Bombs
Mk-20 Rockeye II Cluster Bombs
Mk 20 CBU Cluster Bombs

F/A-18E "Super Hornet" - Single-seat improved Hornet model replacing Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

F/A-18F "Super Hornet" - Two-seat improved Hornet model replacing F-14 Tomcat.

EA-18F "Growler" - Electronic Warfare Model of the "Super Hornet" line replacing the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler.

F/A-18E/F "Advanced Super Hornet" - Proposed stealthy variant; conformal fuel tanks; centerline weapons pod; revised cockpit.

Australia; United States