Is the Super Hornet better for the Blue Angels than Legacy Hornet

Jan 20, 2021
Blue Angels Super Hornet Delta. Photo US NAVY

While the US NAVY Demonstration Squadron Blue Angels transitioning to a new aircraft - F/-18E/F Super Hornet (nickname Rhino), many questions have been raised about this new jet. Is the Super Hornet able for such a close formation flying? Will the team perform the same maneuvers and etc.

The Super Hornet is about 25% larger, 7,000 lb (3,200 kg) heavier empty weight, and 15,000 lb (6,800 kg) heavier maximum weight than the Legacy Hornet. The Super Hornet carries 33% more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41% and endurance by 50% over the Legacy Hornet.

There is also no physical airbrake on the Super Hornet. The role of airbrake is performing by deflecting the flight controls to maximize drag while minimizing any pitching moments. So no longer photos of Blue Angels with deployed airbrakes.

The Super Hornet gets airborne in nearly 1,000 feet less distance and nearly 20 knots slower than the Hornet. Landing speed is also slower on Super Hornet.

Super Hornet ‘Rhino’ is equipped with two General Electric F414 engines, developed from the Hornet's F404 and has 35% additional thrust. With thrust to weight ratio of 1,11 (1,09 for F/A-18C) - the Blue Angels get the ability to perform a diamond loop immediately after take off. At now, the Blue’s practicing such a maneuver, but still not exactly after take off like USAF Thunderbirds do.

Maintenance team got another improvement in reliability and reduced mechanical complexity. F/A-18E/F is 25 percent bigger than C/D but has 42 percent fewer parts. Meaning that maintenance operations will take less time than in Legacy Hornet.

Assigned to the Blue Angels squadron are the oldest F/A-18E/Fs still in the Navy inventory Block 21/22. One of them was used for filming Top Gun: Maverik movie.

Former Blue Angels leader, Navy Captain Eric “Popeye” Doyle, who led the Blue Angels during the 2018-2019 seasons has stayed aboard to lead a smaller transition team which is overseeing the transition to ‘Rhino’.

Here are some words from Capt. Doyle about difference between two Hornets:

“The aileron roll of Super Hornet will be a little bit slower, maybe a bit more sluggish.”

“Blue Angel wingmen fly by feel as much as by sight, adjusting the Hornet’s engine power without looking at their throttles. The Rhino’s throttle-by-wire system may be an advantage since power setting is based on the throttle handle angle.”

“In a Super Hornet with FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) that’s going to be darn near the same spot every time.”

“The flight computer may require some work-arounds. In the pirouette maneuver done by Blue Angel solos with the current Hornet (which has its own FCS), the pilot points the nose skyward, kicks full rudder and the airplane yaws/rolls around itself. But the stock Rhino’s flight control software won’t let a pilot does that. So we had to build in a little ‘notch’ into the flight control computers to allow us to do a pirouette.”

Regarding the official Blue Angels 2021 schedule, the first public airshow is planned for April 10-11 at NAS JAX Air Show, NAS Jacksonville, in difference to previous air show seasons, where the first air displays was always in March at El Centro. I think this year the first airshow will be at El Centro, but still the team have some work to do with the transition to Super Hornet.

And the answer for the title is – Yes. The Super Hornet is better than Legacy Hornet for the Blue Angels. Not because it is newer, but because is larger, more powerful and that’s way will look more impressive in the sky.