It's Official! Blue Angels To Receive Full Squadron Of Super Hornets By End Of 2021
Blue Angels will be relinquishing their Legacy Hornets for Super Hornets in the not so distant future according to DoD contract announcement.
Well, it's actually happening. The Navy's Flight Demonstration Team, better known as the Blue Angels, is set to be fully equipped with Super Hornets by the end of 2021. The news was released with little fanfare via the daily contract announcements posted on the DoD's website, but it is very exciting news for the team and its huge global fanbase.
The contract includes the procurement of 11 kits that are based on a recent engineering study that will allow 9 F/A-18Es and 2 F/A-18Fs to be modified to suit the team's unique needs. This includes the removal of certain items, such as the jet's nose-mounted M61A2 cannon, and the installation of others, including air show smoke systems that help onlookers trace the team's path through the sky. Other modifications include a heavy spring in the control column that provides constant forward force. This helps the Blue Angel pilots pull off their especially tight formation aerobatics. There are some avionics modifications as well and, of course, the iconic blue and gold paint job.
The announcement reads:
"The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, is being awarded $17,002,107 for firm-fixed-price delivery order N0001918F2654 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-16-G-0001). This order is for the retrofit documentation and kits to convert nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft into a Blue Angel configuration in accordance with engineering change proposal 6480. Work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri, and is expected to be completed in December 2021. Fiscal 2018 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $17,002,107 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity."
News that the Navy was seriously considering the transition dates back to 2015, but this contract announcement comes as NAVAIR has enacted a plan that would see many of its youngest Legacy Hornets (F/A-18A-Ds) ported over to the USMC. This was only possible due to increased funding as part of the Trump administration's military buildup and a larger multi-year buy of Super Hornets. These measures will drastically improve what was becoming something of a dire 'fighter gap' brought on by years of warfare overseas that literally flew the wings off the Navy's tactical air fleet, delays in the F-35 program, and lack of prioritization when it came to spares procurement and general readiness under sequester.
With more Super Hornets coming, and in the advanced Block III form no less, and the first Super Hornets heading to Boeing for a service life extension which will also include Block III upgrades in many instances, the Navy can treat its prized demo team to some newer hardware.
Traditionally the team's F/A-18C/Ds are among the oldest and highest hour jets in the fleet. In recent years they have been subject to a number of incidents in which parts literally fell off the aircraft in flight. Beyond that, the aging aircraft are becoming more of a hassle to keep up with the team's highly demanding schedule. With all this in mind, the Super Hornets, which are likely to be among the oldest in the Navy's inventory, will be a welcome addition.
It's not clear if these jets will go through a life extension before being converted and delivered to the team or if they will get older jets with hours still left on them.
Beyond being newer airframes, there are certain ways the Super Hornets may impact the Blue Angel's air show routine. The type is physically larger than the one they replace by a good margin and feature longer range—a good thing when deploying in clean configuration across the United States. The Super Hornet is quite the air show performer as it is, especially when it comes to slow and high-angle of attack maneuvers. These capabilities could enhance the solo's routine in particular.
On the other hand, the Super Hornet has been compared to the Legacy Hornet multiple times to me by pilots who have flown both—and two that were flying both at the same time at VFA-122—as a luxury high-performance SUV compared to a Porsche 911.
But for what the Super Hornet lacks in certain aspects of kinematic performance, it makes up for in other ways. And considering that the Legacy Hornet has made its last cruise aboard a U.S. Navy carrier, the Super Hornet is more representative of the Navy's front-line force.
For the Marines on the other hand, who are part of the Blue Angels team but passed over procuring Super Hornet, that's a different story. But they will be flying Legacy Hornets in a front-line capacity for many years to come. This is especially true now that they will receive an injection of airframes from the Navy, some of which will get a series of advanced upgrades including an AESA radar.
It's worth noting that the Blue Angel's Air Force counterparts, the Thunderbirds, have flown some of the most advanced F-16C/Ds in the inventory for over a decade. The team's Block 52 Vipers are also the first of the USAF's F-16C/Ds to receive a service life extension.
Unless something major has changed, the Blues will also be getting a C-130J to replace their KC-130T commonly referred to as Fat Albert. In that case, the aircraft is coming from surplus Royal Air Force stocks, but regardless of its origins, the J model Super Hercules brings a big leap in performance over the aging KC-130T. This will almost certainly mean Fat Albert's routine will also receive an update.
If everything goes as plan, the Blue Angels should have a very exciting and fresh look in the early 2020s.
Contac the author: Tyler@thedrive.com