Earlier today, a group of reporters including myself visited
Boeing's Saint Louis, Mo., plant where they build the F/A-18E/F, EA-18G and the
F-15. Amid the briefings, Boeing afforded us the chance to assemble an inert
Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)--which was kinda cool. But the real
highlight of the tour for me was an opportunity to fly Boeing full-domed
simulator for the F/A-18F Block II and a tour of the advanced capabilities
labs. But alas, they didn't allow us to take photos...
The simulator was in a word: awesome. Our host was Boeing's chief test pilot for the Super Hornet, Ricardo Traven--a veteran of the Canadian Forces with more than 3000 hours in the E/F versions alone. Once again I found myself in awe of the Super Hornet's handling characteristics, which are simply magnificent. The jet is quick and responsive and I performed feats such as a tail slide with ease. But Traven also taught me how to perform a high angle-of-attack maneuver called a "pirouette." Basically, slow the jet down, put in a good amount of AOA, say about 42 degrees or so in this case. Then, step on the rudder and input full lateral stick and the jet will kind of do a 180-degree turn around its Z-axis. I did that a couple of times.
We also did some carrier landings... Initially, the Boeing guys want me to use the auto-throttles, but I declined. (It's just not natural to me to not be able to control the throttle settings) Anyways, on my first try, my approach was good and I set the jet down smoothly on the deck, but as I pushed the throttles into full blower, the hook didn't catch a "cross deck pendant". So it was a bolter.... On my second attempt, I made it no problem. Not sure what my grade was, but I'm willing to bet it was the three-wire.
Incidentally, no one else made a trap, though John came close... (but with auto-throttles-if memory serves). I did screw up one thing though; I accidentally shot down my wingman when I mistook him (or her... It's a computer simulator--so it?) for a bandit... Oh well, sacrifices have to be made.
Anyways, the Super Hornet and Lockheed's F-35 are often maligned on their performance--particularly since both aircraft top out short of Mach 2.
But with the notable exception of the F-22 Raptor, modern fighters seldom achieve speeds above Mach 1.5 during an operational sortie. It's very difficult, consumes time and more importantly gas to achieve those speeds, especially when encumbered with weapons and fuel tanks as fourth-generation machines inevitably are in any combat configuration. Navy pilots will tell you that the Super Hornet's performance is more than sufficient.
But one area where the Super Hornet is somewhat lacking is transonic acceleration. With the new enhanced engines which produce more than 20% more thrust than the existing power-plants being developed by General Electric, that could change. Mark Gammon, Boeing senior manager for F/A-18 advanced capabilities, says that under certain flight conditions, acceleration times are reduced by a factor of four. The engines are also more fuel-efficient and durable than the existing F414 variants.
Should the Navy buy the new engine, the existing Super Hornet inlet has a 10% margin for increased mass-flow, so it could be retrofitted to the existing fleet with ease, Gammon says.