Blue Angels Trading Up

The Navy awarded Boeing a $12.05 million contract Monday to start work on engineering needed to configure F/A-18E/F aircraft to perform as the Blue Angels aerial demonstration team. The Super Hornets would replace the existing mixed fleet of F/A-18A/C/D Hornet aircraft the Blue Angels have been flying since 1986. The service said in December it was planning to make the change due to the age of the existing aircraft. There have been several incidents in the last 14 months in which pieces have fallen off Blue Angels aircraft during flight, and in June, team member Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed when his F/A-18 crashed near Smyrna, Tenn., during a rehearsal for an airshow. The Navy has not yet explained the cause of that crash. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is substantially larger than the earlier version, with a wing area 25 percent larger than its predecessor, making it physically similar in size to the Air Force’s F-15 Eagle. The Super Hornet is considered a less nimble platform due to its greater size and weight, but the jet is specified to be able to pull 7.5 G turns. The engineering work will involve removing the jet’s gun and missile launch equipment, adding smoke generators, adding fuel pumps that can feed the engines during prolonged inverted flight, and some cockpit adjustments. The Air Force’s Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team has been flying F-16Cs of the Block 52 configuration since 2008 but has no plans to change aircraft in the near future. (See also: Thunderbirds from the July 2016 of Air Force Magazine.)