The Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet are both variants of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. Carrier-based and twin-engined, the F/A-18E and F are larger and more sophisticated than their predecessors, the F/A-18C and D Hornet. The F/A-18E is a single seat fighter, while the F/A-18F features a pilot and co-pilot sat in tandem. Both variants of the Super Hornet carry a 20mm cannon, as well as air-air and air-surface armaments. They can also carry a maximum of five external fuel tanks, and can even act as an airborne refuelling tanker if required.
With a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and a range of 1,275 nautical miles, the Super Hornet is both faster and more versatile than previous incarnations of the Hornet. It features a total of eleven weapons hardpoints: two at the wingtips, six under the wing and three under the fuselage, allowing it to take on a variety of different combat roles. Common armaments for the Super Hornet include the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow air-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-surface missiles, and the Paveway range of laser guided bombs. Laser targeting pods can be fitted to the aircraft’s hardpoints if required.
Currently in service with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and US Navy, the Super Hornet entered production in 1995. Since then, over 500 of the aircraft have been built, at a cost of $66.9 million per unit. The aircraft entered service with the US Navy in 1999, and the RAAF in 2010.
The Super Hornet began life as the Hornet 2000 project, a prototype version of the regular F/A-18 Hornet designed to take larger engines and an increased payload. McDonnell Douglas (later taken over by Boeing) pitched the Super Hornet to the US Navy as a replacement for the ageing Grumman A-6 Intruder and LTV A-7 Corsair II, as the Navy’s original planned replacement, the McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger, had run into budgetary problems and was likely to be cancelled. The Navy liked the upgraded Hornet, and placed their initial order for the plan in 1992. The Super Hornet also ended up replacing the F-14 Tomcat, meaning that Hornet variants made up the Navy’s entire complement of fighters until the early 21st century.
- Maximum speed: Mach 1.8+ (1,190 mph, 1,900 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,190 m)
- Range: 1,275 nmi (2,346 km) clean plus two AIM-9s
- Combat radius: 390 nmi (449 mi, 722 km) for interdiction mission
- Ferry range: 1,800 nmi (2,070 mi, 3,330 km)
- Service ceiling: 50,000+ ft (15,000+ m)
- Rate of climb: 44,882 ft/min (228 m/s)
- Wing loading: 94.0 lb/ft² (459 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight: 0.93
- Design load factor: 7.6 g