Advanced Super Hornet

The evolution of the F/A-18 Hornet family has been interesting. Originally conceived as a very lightweight land based fighter by Northrop, the YF-17 lost out to the YF-16 from General Dynamics (now part of Lockheed Martin) in the Air Force Light Weight Fighter competition.

Around the same time, the Navy realized it needed to start looking for a replacement for the A-7 Corsair II family. Additionally, while the F-14 was replacing the venerable F-4 Phantom, the Midway class carriers were unable to routinely operate the big Tomcat. A replacement for those Phantoms was needed. And don’t forget the Marines. The Tomcat was a fine fighter, but unsuited for the Marine need for Close Air Support.

But the Navy was quite leery of Northrop’s product. It took a partnership between Northrop and longtime supplier of Navy jets McDonnell Douglas to redesign the YF-17 into the F/A-18A that would be suitable for the fleet. It was a good deal heavier than the original product, but still quite light compared to the Tomcat.  The F/A-18B was a two-seat operational trainer version. Improvements to the avionics, primarily the ability to use smart weapons, lead to the “C” model Hornet, and the two-seat version, the “D.”

The Hornet was easy to maintain, popular with its crews, and relatively cheap. The only real shortcoming was its short range.

The very high costs of maintaining the F-14, the retirement of the A-6 Intruder, and the collapse of the A-12 stealth bomber program left the Navy scrambling to find an airframe to fill the flight decks of the carriers.

McDonnell Douglas (bought out by Boeing)  responded with a proposal that was in effect a Hornet beefed up by about 25%. This design, which came to be known as the F/A-18E Super Hornet entered the fleet just about the the beginning of the 21st Century.  The two seat version, the F model, wasn’t an operational trainer, but rather had a missionized rear cockpit for a Weapon Systems Officer, making the “F” model more suitable for certain strike missions.

But the Super Hornet isn’t perfect. For one thing, the stores pylons on the wings are toed out 4 degrees for release clearance purposes. This imposes a pretty hefty drag, and the Super Hornet isn’t particularly fast with full pylons. Nor is the Super Hornet a stealthy aircraft.

Boeing, seeing some signs of the F-35C program not proceeding very well, initiated a company funded endeavor to address some of the Super Hornet shortcomings. The Advanced Super Hornet may never be bought, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if at least some of the characteristics soon find their way to the fleet.

[scribd id=163474043 key=false mode=scroll]

I stole the scribd from Jason.