Boeing has delivered the first two F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet jets to the U.S. Navy for flight testing, the company said in a statement.
According to the statement, one jet is a single-seat E model (F/A-18E) and the other is a two-seat F model (F/A-18F).
“The aircraft will be used for carrier suitability and integration testing of all Block III mission system components,” said Steve Wade, Boeing vice president, F/A-18 & E/A-18G programs. “These test jets will ensure crews have plenty of time to become comfortable with the new, next-generation systems before receiving operational aircraft.”
Last month, Boeing announced that the first Boeing F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet test aircraft, F287, conducted its maiden flight at St. Louis Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, MO.
The Navy will use the two aircraft – two-seat model (F287) and single-seat (E323) – for comprehensive testing. The tests will be conducted at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland and Naval Air Weapons System (NAWS) China Lake in California.
At NAS Patuxent River, the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX-23) “Salty Dogs” will perform shore-based carrier testing and focus mainly on the hardware and aeromechanical aspects of test with the F model. At NAWS China Lake, VX-31 “Dust Devils” will examine software functionality and network architecture. Once testing is complete at VX-23, the two-seated model will ferry to VX-31 to complete Block III flight testing.
The testing is to familiarize pilots with the advanced cockpit system’s new 10-inch-by-19-inch touchscreen display and test the capabilities delivered with the enhanced network capability.
In March 2019, Boeing received a three-year contract award from the Navy for 78 F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet fighter aircraft. The Block III configuration adds capability upgrades to the existing Block II aircraft that include enhanced network capability, longer range, reduced radar signature, an advanced cockpit system and an enhanced communication system.
The most visible upgrade is the conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) which would bring more range, more persistence and less drag to the aircraft. According to Boeing, the company and Navy test teams have already flown conformal fuel tank prototypes.
The aircraft is equipped with a Block II IRST system consisting of Lockheed Martin’s IRST21 sensor, the GE Aviation FPU-13 Fuel Tank Assembly and the Meggitt Defense Industry Environmental Control unit. There is also minor structural treatment to decrease the Radar Cross Section (RCS) of the aircraft such as a redesigned muzzle as well as improved angle of attack sensors. The fighter’s life also will be extended from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours.
The U.S. Navy recently took delivery of the final Boeing F/A-18 Block II Super Hornet fighter aircraft, closing out a run of 322 one-seater F/A-18Es and 286 two-seater F/A-18Fs. From now on, all aircraft manufactured for the Navy will be in the Block III configuration.
In addition to the Block III delivery, Boeing will also perform Service Life Modification (SLM) to hundreds of Block II Super Hornets that extend their service lives and integrate Block III capabilities. SLM is key in building both the capacity and capability to ensure the Navy has jets ready to fight out into the mid-2040s.
The first squadron deployment of Block III Super Hornet is anticipated in mid-2023, with a plan in place to have two Block III squadrons, composed of new production and Block IIs that have undergone SLM, accompanying each Carrier Air Wing by 2027.