McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Last revised September 20, 2015

By the late 1980s, both the F-14 Tomcat and the A-6E Intruder were showing their ages and were cleary nearing the end of their useful lives. It was planned that a navalized version of the F-22 Raptor would replace the F-14 and that the A-12 would replace the A-6E. However, both programs were quite risky in that they required a considerable advance in technology and promised to be extremely costly and would probably take a very long time before they could be placed in service.

Consequently, the Defense Department ordered the Navy and the Air Force to consider derivatives of the F/A-18 Hornet as stopgap measures until the F-22 and A-12 could be made available. The project became known as the Hornet 2000, which was officially introduced in 1987.

The Hornet 2000 project was given a rather low priority and was at one time even in danger of cancellation. However, the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War spelled the end of both the A-12 project and the navalized F-22, and the Hornet 2000 project became more important. On January 7, 1991, the troubled General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II attack aircraft was cancelled. The navalized F-22 project was also dropped.

McDonnell Douglas immediately proposed the Hornet 2000 as an alternative. Although it was essentially a new aircraft, it was assigned the designation F/A-18E (single seat) or F/A-18F (two-seat), implying that the proposal was merely a modified version of an already tried and true design. The Navy liked the idea and issued a formal declaration of an intent to proceed on May 12, 1992. Initial Operational Capability was to be in 2000, and the first carrier deployment was to be in 2003. The Navy signed the final F/A-18E/F contract on December 7, 1992. It called for five single-seat F/A-18Es, two 2-seat F/A-18Fs, plus three ground test airframes.

One of the more important goals of the project is a 40 percent increase in the Hornet's range, which is often quoted as the Hornet's primary weakness. It was also designed to correct some of the Hornet's deficiencies in payload and bring-back capability, while at the same time providing a new platform capable of additional growth to support new technologies.

The F/A-18E/F program underwent a successful Preliminary Design Review in the summer of 1993, resulting in only a relatively few minor changes. The design passed a Critical Design Review in June of 1994. Northrop Grumman was to built the center/aft fuselage at its Hawthorne, California facility and McDonnell Douglas was to built the forward fuselage at its St Louis, Missouri facility.

In order to provide the required significantly increased range, the aircraft had to be given the ability to carry a lot more internal fuel. In order to provide this extra space for internal fuel, an extra fuselage plug was added, increasing the overall length of the F/A-18E/F by 2 feet 10 inches over that of the F/A-18C/D.

In addition, the wing is proportionally enlarged by 25 percent, with an increase in wingspan of 4 feet 3 1/2 inches and an increase of 100 square feet in area. The increase in wing size is accompanied by a deepening at the roots to take extra loads. The new wing has no twist or camber and is stressed for extra operating weight. The wing of the F/A-18E/F has an outboard leading edge chord extension, leading to a definite "dogtooth" which is not present on the F/A-18C/D. The enlarged wing area gives the F/A-18E/F additional lift, which gives the plane a slower approach speed.

By enlarging the wing area and adding a fuselage plug, 3,000 pounds of additional fuel can be carried, which is 33 percent more than the capacity of the standard Hornet. A fleet air defense F/A-18E/F carrying four AMRAAMS, two AIM-9s and external tanks would be able to loiter on station for 71 minutes at a distance of 400 nautical miles from its carrier, as opposed to only 58 minutes for the F-14D.

The F/A-18E/F is provided with two extra underwing hardpoints (Nos 2 and 10) at about two-thirds of span, outboard of the existing pylons. This raises the total external stores carriage capability to 17,750 pounds. The gross weight is increased by about 11,600 pounds. The aircraft has a higher landing weight, which allows it to return to its carrier with an increased weight of unexpended ordnance (up to 9000 pounds). This addressed one of the shortcomings of the F/A-18C/D, which often had to jettison its unexpended ordnance into the ocean before being permitted to land on its carrier, which wasted a lot of money.

Increased space for chaff and flares is provided. The increase is from 60 to 120 canisters. A simplified and strengthened undercarriage is to be fitted, enabling takeoff weights as high as 66,000 pounds.

The undercarriage is basically the same as that on the F/A-18C/D, but is beefed up to accommodate the additional weight. In addition, there is more ground clearance so that the aircraft can carry a large fuel tank or other pod on the centerline.

The F/A-18E/F is powered by a pair of uprated General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans. The F414 engine offers 35 percent more thrust than the F404 from which it is derived. It has a larger fan for increased airflow. The engine is a two-shaft powerplant built around a core similar to that for the F412. The afterburner section is based on the technlolgy used in the YF120 turbofan developed for the F-22/F-23. The turbofan has three stages, and the compressor has seven stages. Each engine is capable of providing up to 21,890 lb.s.t. It incorporates some of the features intended for the F412, the powerplant of the now-cancelled A-12.

A completely re-designed engine air intake of trapezoidal configuration replaces the D-shaped intakes of the earlier Hornets. These intakes will provide 18 percent more air to the uprated engines and will give better performance at high speed.

The area of the twin vertical fins is increased by 15 percent. The rudder area is increased by 54 percent and the range of movement is such that they can be deflected 10 degrees more, up to 40 degrees. The tailplane will be made of improved composites, and the area of the tailplanes is increased by 36 percent. The areas of the leading edge root extensions was increased by 34 percent in order to restore the degree of maneuverability at 30-35 degree angles of attack enjoyed by the current Hornet.

Although the aircraft is not a true "stealth" aircraft in the strict sense, some stealth technology is incorporated in the F/A-18E/F, notably on the wing leading edges to augment the beneficial effect of skinning with large areas of carbon epoxy. Radar absorbent material is added to critical surface areas, and the redesigned intakes significantly help to deflect radar waves. In addition, access panels and landing gear doors have jagged or serrated edges to deflect radar waves. The radar cross section has been reduced by an order of magnitude over that of the F/A-18C/D, and is approximately that of the F-16.

The radar is the Raytheon AN/APG-73 that is used by later-build F/A-18Cs. From 2007, the APG-79 AESA will be installed on new-build F/A-18E/F aircraft and will available as a retrofit option. However, the APG-79 will not be available for aircraft built prior to Lot 26, since they do not have the redesigned forward fuselage that is required for APG-79 installation.

The pilot of the F/A-18E sits on a Martin-Baker SJU-17/A ejection seat. The single seat F/A-18E has the 5 x 5-inch central display of the F/A-18C replaced by a new 8in x 8in flat panel active matrix LCD. The two other 5in x 5in multipurpose CRT screens are retained, as is the existing HUD, except that the control panel just below it will be replaced by a monochrome touch-sensitive screen. All displays (two CRTs, one color LCD, and one monochrome LCD) are made by Kaiser. The rear cockpit of the F/A-18F has identical instrumentation, except that it has no HUD and the 8in x 8in screen is located above the landscape-format touch screen.

The F/A-18E/F has improved countermeasures systems to increase its effectiveness against enemy missiles. The system is centered around the Integrated Defense counterMeasures system, designated ALQ-214. The suite includes the enhanced ALR-67(V)3 radar warning receiver, the ALQ-214 countermeasures system and the fiber-optic towed ALE-55 deceptive jammer. The number of flare/chaff dispensers was doubled to 120 units, using the BAE Systems Integrated Devense Solutions ALE-47.

The AIM-9M Sidewinder is the standard wingtip missile, but is being replaced by the Raytheon AIM-9X which used the motor and warhead from the existing Sidewinder but has a new imaging seaker and thrust-vectoring control which offers significantly better off-boresight capability. The primary beyond-visible range missile is the AIM-120C AMRAAM, which can be carried on any pylon except the centerline and the wingtips. The four inner wing pylons can carry twin-rail launchers for the AMRAAM. An alternative to the AMRAAM is the older AIM-7 Sparrow, of which up to 8 can be carried.

The F/A-18E/F has expanded capacity for growth. It has considerably more room for additional equipjment and has much more capacity for electrical power generation and cooling.

Early wind-tunnel tests caried out in the summer of 1993 indicated that some weapons stores might collide with the side of the fuselage or with other stores when released. This problem was caused by an adverse airflow created by the airframe, and to cure this problem the underwing pylons were redesigned and canted outwards at three degrees.

McDonnell Douglas opened the F/A-18E/F assembly line in St Louis on September 23, 1994. Production of the center/aft fuselage began in May 1994 at Northrop Grumman in Hawthorne, California. The Navy assigned the name Super Hornet to the project.

The prototype F/A-18E Super Hornet (BuNo 165164) was rolled out on September 18, 1995 at St. Louis. It took off on its first test flight on November 29, 1995, with McDonnell Douglas project test pilot Fred Madenwald at the controls. Aside from a minor environmental control system indication, the aircraft handled well on its first flight.

Ten test arcraft were scheduled to be built, seven of which were flight test aircraft (five Es and two Fs) and the other three being ground test articles. The flight test program was scheduled to begin in February 1996 at the Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) at Patuxent River, Maryland.

Acquisition of an initial production batch of 12 (named Low-Rate Initial Production I, or LRIP I) was planned for Fiscal Year 1997, with assembly of the first production aircraft to begin in 1998 and service entry due to begin in 2001.

Sea trials began on August 6, 1996 at NAS Patuxent River, MD when a Super Hornet made a catapult launch from the facility's land-based steam-powered catapult. The first landing by the Super Hornet aboard an aircraft carrier took place on January 18, 1997, when an F/A-18F landed on the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74). Carrier trials began after flight testing was suspended briefly in December 1996 when a test aircraft experience a compressor stall.

In August of 1997, McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing.

The Super Hornet's final carrier qualifications tests were carried out in February and March of 1999 aboard the USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75).

The first production Super Hornet (BuNo 165533) flew for the first time on November 9, 1998. This was the first of a dozen low-rate initial production Super Hornets.

A problem was encountered with "wing drop" during the test and evaluation phase, which caused Secretary of Defense William Cohen to threaten to suspend further funding of the project unless this problem was fixed. Basically, the problem was caused by airflow separating on one wing before the other, and it typically occurred while the plane was maneuvering at high angles of attack and high g-forces. However, the addition of a porous wing-fold fairing seems to have fixed the problem, and cleared the way for the Navy to award Boeing a contract for the second low-rate initial production contract (LRIP II) for 20 aircraft in the FY 1998 budget. These were scheduled for delivery by October of 2000.

Fiscal year 1999 budget included 30 aircraft (14 single seaters and 16 two-seaters), which were scheduled for completion in September 2001.

Beginning on May 27, 1999, the F/A-18E/F underwent operational evaluation with VX-9 at NAS China Lake, California. Seven production model Super Hornets went through an exhaustive series of tests to assess the aircraft's capabilities in operational missions. Three single seaters and four two-seaters were involved.

The Super Hornet began to replace the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was finally retired on 2006. The first operational unit to get the Super Hornet was VFA-122, based at NAS Lemoore, California. This unit received their first seven planes on November 17, 1999 when they flew in from NAS China Lake after completion of the operational evaluation phase. This was to be the fleet readiness squadron, which meant that it had the responsibility for developing the training program and for developing the tactics that would be used by Super Hornet users.

The Super Hornet serves alongside the original Hornet.

The later production Super Hornets are equipped with the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). This system uses a magnetic head tracker attached to the helmet that can synchronize the pilot's head movements so that he/she can train the aircraft's radar, infrared sensors, and weaponry simply by looking at the target and pressing a button on the control stick. It should be especially effective when it is integrated with the AIM-9X high off-boresight Sidewinder air-to-air missile. It will no longer be necessary to maneuver the aircraft into the effective seeker arc of the missile, which means that if the pilot can see the target, he/she can fire at it. This system is a joint USAF/Navy project and is designed to be incorporated into the F-15C, F-16, as well as the C, D, E, and F versions of the Hornet.

The Super Hornet can carry the Raytheon Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP). This is an all-weather reconnaissance system that is installed in a pod that is carried on the centerline station. It is intended to replace the TARPS unit currently carried by F-14s.

For targeting, the Super Hornet uses a system known as the ASQ-228 Advanced Tactical FLIR (ATFLIR). The system includes integrated forward-looking infrared and laser spot trackers, and a laser designator that allows accurate target identification and tracking in almost all weather conditions. It also allows greater stand-off distances for weapons delivery than previous systems. The system features a continuous auto-boresight alignment capability which makes a kill on first pass more likely. It will be integrated with new radar modes for the APG-79, which gives an excellent high-resolution synthetic aperture radar ground mapping capability. The system is housed in a pod which is mounted on the aircraft's left fuselage station, and is compatible with the F/A-18C/D as well.

The Super Hornet will be able to carry the new Multi-functional Information Distribution System-Low Volume Terminal (MIDS-LVT), which is designed to provide the aircrew with more enhanced near real-time situational awareness by using data from several different sources. It is capable of exchanging data with other aircraft over high-capacity, jam-resistant digital links. It provides the ability to identify friend-and foe, as well as enhanced tactical air navigation functionality, which should help to reduce the frequency of friendly-fire incidents.

Periodic upgrades were built into the Super Hornet program. In 2001, the Block I upgrade program began, in which new DMV-179 single-board mission computers were added to replace the AYK-14s. These new computers use off-the-shelf technology and use C++ open architecture, making upgrades much easer to perform. A more advanced electronic warfare suite was introduced, alng with advanced mission displays and the JHMCS. Block II began with lot 26 production. In this upgrade program, two multifunction displays that were used in the F/18C/D were replaced with more advanced displays, and added the advance aft crew station on the F with its larger color display and additional controllers.

In 2004, a new decoupled cockpit was introduced in the F model, in which the two crew members could perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions simultaneously. Each crewmember will be able to act independently to guide and control various weapons and sensors.

The single-seater F/A-18E will replace early F/A-18As and Cs as they are retired. The two-seater will replace the remaining F-14 fighter squadrons. Peak production is to be 48 aircraft per year. As many as a thousand F/A-18E/F Super Hornets may eventually be purchased, at a total cost of 49 billion dollars, in a program lasting until 2014.

Some critics accuse the F/A-18E/F for providing not much more than an increased range and a larger bring-back weight for such a high cost. In addition, it is essentially a non-stealthy aircraft that will have to fly in a combat environment in which low-observability will be increasingly vital for survival.

The Super Hornet received its first taste of combat with VFA-115. VFA-115 initially flew missions of Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, but did not expend any ordnance. However, because of the enhanced "bring-back" capability offered by the F/A-18E, most of the unexpended ordnance could be recovered aboard the carrier to be used another day. In Operation Southern Watch the squadron expended 22 JDAMS against 14 targets, marking the first time that the Super Hornet dropped ordnance in anger against an enemy. The squadron also participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, during which they dropped laser-guided precision bombs and GPS-guided JDAMs. During these missions, the Super Hornets carried air-to-air missiles, although none were used. Also, during these missions, some of the VFA-115 Super Hornets were equipped with the centerline A/A42R-1 aerial refuelling store, which they used to refuel other members of their squadron in midair. The squadron dropped more than 380,000 pounds of munitions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. On September 8, 2006, VFA-211 Super Hornets attacked Taliban facilities west and northwest of Kandahar in Afghanistan. In 2014, Super Hornets also paticipated in boming mission against Islamic State forces in northern IraQ

The Royal Australian Air Force ordered 24 F/A-18F aircraft in 2007 to replace its aging F-111 fleet. RAAF Super Hornets entered service with the RAAF in December 2010. In September of 2014, eight RAAF F/A-18Fs arrived in the United Arab Emirates to take part in operations against Islamic State militants, going into action for the first time On Oct 8, 2014.

F/A-18E/F Squadron Assignments

Serials of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

165164/165165		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18E Super Hornet (Lot 18)
					EMD aircraft.  c/n 1285/E001, 1293/E002
165166			McDonnell Douglas F/A-18F Super Hornet (Lot 18)
					EMD aircraft. c/n 1313/F001
165167/165169		McDonnell Douglas F/A-18E Super Hornet (Lot 18)
					EMD aircraft.  c/n 1324/E003, 1337/E004, 1344/E005
165170			McDonnell Douglas F/A-18F Super Hornet (Lot 18)
					EMD aircraft.  c/n 1354/F002
165533/155540		Boeing F/A-18E-52-MC Super Hornet
					c/n 1454/E006, 1460/E007, 1467/E008, 1471/E009,
					1474/E010, 1477/E011, 1486/E012, 1488/E013
165541/165544		Boeing F/A-18F-52-MC Super Hornet
					c/n 1458/F003, 1465/F004, 1483/F005, 1493/F006
165660/165667		Boeing F/A-18E-53-MC Super Hornet
					c/n 1499/E014, 1502/E015, 1505/E016, 1509/E017, 1513/E018, 
					1515/E019, 1517/E020, 1518/E021 
165668/165679		Boeing F/A-18F-53-MC Super Hornet
					c/n 1500/F007, 1501/F008, 1503/F009, 1504/F010, 1506/F011, 
					1507/F012, 1508/F013, 1510/F014, 1511/F015, 1512/F016, 
					1514/F017, 1516/F018 
165779/165792		Boeing F/A-18E-54-MC Super Hornet
					c/n 1519/E022, 1523/E023, 1526/E024, 1528/E025, 1530/E026, 
					1532/E027, 1534/E028, 1536/E029, 1538/E030, 1540/E031, 
					1542/E032, 1544/E033, 1546/E034, 1548/E035 
165793/165808		Boeing F/A-18F-54-MC Super Hornet.
					c/n 1520/F019, 1521/F020, 1522/F021, 1524/F022, 1525/F023, 
					1527/F024, 1529/F025, 1531/F026, 1533/F027, 1535/F028, 
					1537/F029. 1539/F030, 1541/F031, 1543/F032, 1545/F033, 1547/F034
165860/165874		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
				c/n E036/E050
				165870 (c/n 1523)
165875/165895		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
				c/n F035/F055
165896/165909		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
				c/n E051/E064
165910/165934		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
				c/n F056/F080
165935/165937		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
				c/n F081/F083.  Not produced.
166420/166448		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
				c/n E065/E093
166449/166467		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
				c/n F084/F102
166598/166609 		Boeing F/A-18E Lot 27 Super Hornet
				c/n E094/E105
166610/166641 		Boeing F/A-18E/F Lot 27 Super Hornet
166643/166657 		Boeing F/A-18E Lot 28 Super Hornet
166658/166684 		Boeing F/A-18F Lot 28 Super Hornet 
166775/166789 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet 
				MSN E121/E135 
166790/166816 		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
166817/166841 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
166842/166854 		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
166859/166872 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
166873/166892 		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet 
166901/166908 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
166915/166924 		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
166947/166960 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet 
166961 			Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet 
166973/166977 		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
167957 			Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet 
				to RAAF as A44-201. Rolled out Jul 8, 2009, first flight Jul 20, 2009. 
167958/167966 		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet 
				MSN AF-2/AF-10. To Royal Australian Air Force as A44-202/210. 
168463/168466 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
168469 			Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
168471/168478 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
168485/168493 		Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet 
				MSN F259/F267 
168865/168891 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
168905/168919 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
168353/168370 		Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet

Specification of Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet:

Engines: Two General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans, each rated at 21,890 lb.s.t. with afterburning. Performance: Maximum speed Mach 1.8 (1190 mph) at 35,000 feet. Landing approach speed 143 mph. Combat ceiling 50,000 feet. Combat radius 760 miles (air-to-air mission). Weights: 30,500 pounds empty, 66,000 pounds maximum takeoff. 42,000 lb maximum carrier landing weight. Dimensions: maximum wingspan 44 feet 8 1/2 inches, length 60 feet 3 1/2 inches, height 16 feet 0 inches, wing area 500 square feet. Fuel: 1670 US gallons internal. A total of three external 330 US gallon drop tanks can be carried, raising total fuel to 2660 US gallons. Armament: One 20-mm M61A1 cannon in nose. Up to 17,750 pounds of fuel, missiles, and ordnance could be carried on six underwing hardpoints, two fuselage corner stations, one centerline point, and two wingtip points. Up to 9000 pounds of stores can be brought back to a carrier landing.


  1. Vespidae Varius--Recent Variations in the Hornet Family, Paul Jackson, Air International, December 1993, p. 301

  2. Airscene Headlines, Air International, November 1995.

  3. Airscene Headlines, Air International, January 1996.

  4. Air Forces Monthly, January 2000

  5. Military Aviation Review, World Airpower Journal, Volume 39, Winter 1999.

  6. Military Aviation Review, World AirPower Journal, Volume 35, Winter 1998.

  7. Military Aviation Review, World AirPower Journal, Volume 29, Summer 1997.

  8. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Brad Elward, International Air Power Review, Winter 2003/2004.

  9. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Wikipedia,