While it has been known for sometime that Boeing and the US Navy intend to fly a modified F/A-18F Super Hornet equipped with conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) and a weapons pod later this summer, some new details are emerging.
When the modified Rhino--as the Super Hornet is affectionately known--does fly in late August or early September over the Navy's Atlantic range with the new hardware, those CFTs and weapons pod will not be functional, says Mike Gibbons, Boeing's F/A-18 program manager. The idea is to test the aerodynamic qualities of those representative shapes, he says.
Mark Gammon, Boeing's Hornet advanced projects chief, also notes that the aircraft will have a mock-up of an internally-mounted infrared search and track system mounted along with a slew of radar cross-section enhancement measures.
Gammon, who has worked on the Hornet since the first days of the original F/A-18A classic model jets, says that the CFTs won't add any cruise drag at high subsonic speeds, but it will have a negative impact on drag at transonic speeds--but the company has done a lot of engineering work to try mitigate that. In fact, Gammon notes, at low airspeeds, sometimes overall drag with the CFTs is actually lower than a clean aircraft's.
Configured with the CFTs and weapons pod carrying four AMRAAMs, the jet performs roughly the same as a Super Hornet carrying four external AIM-120s.