A visit to Boeing’s Super Hornet plant… and full-dome sim

Earlier today, a group of reporters including myself visitedBoeing’s Saint Louis, Mo., plant where they build the F/A-18E/F, EA-18G and theF-15. Amid the briefings, Boeing afforded us the chance to assemble an inertLaser Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)–which was kinda cool. But the realhighlight of the tour for me was an opportunity to fly Boeing full-domedsimulator for the F/A-18F Block II and a tour of the advanced capabilitieslabs. But alas, they didn’t allow us to take photos…

 

120411-N-DR144-778.jpgThe simulator was in a word: awesome. Our host was Boeing’schief test pilot for the Super Hornet, Ricardo Traven–a veteran of the CanadianForces with more than 3000 hours in the E/F versions alone. Once again I foundmyself in awe of the Super Hornet’s handling characteristics, which are simplymagnificent. The jet is quick and responsive and I performed feats such as atail slide with ease. But Traven also taught me how to perform a high angle-of-attackmaneuver called a “pirouette.” Basically, slow the jet down, put in a goodamount of AOA, say about 42 degrees or so in this case. Then, step on therudder and input full lateral stick and the jet will kind of do a 180-degreeturn around its Z-axis. I did that a couple of times.

 

We also did some carrier landings… Initially, the Boeingguys want me to use the auto-throttles, but I declined. (It’s just not naturalto me to not be able to control the throttle settings) Anyways, on my firsttry, my approach was good and I set the jet down smoothly on the deck, but as Ipushed the throttles into full blower, the hook didn’t catch a “cross deckpendant”. So it was a bolter…. On my second attempt, I made it no problem. Notsure what my grade was, but I’m willing to bet it was the three-wire.

 

Incidentally, no one else made a trap, though John cameclose… (but with auto-throttles-if memory serves). I did screw up one thingthough; I accidentally shot down my wingman when I mistook him (or her… It’s acomputer simulator–so it?) for a bandit… Oh well, sacrifices have to be made.

 

Anyways, the Super Hornet and Lockheed’s F-35 are oftenmaligned on their performance–particularly since both aircraft top out short ofMach 2.

But with the notable exception of the F-22 Raptor, modernfighters seldom achieve speeds above Mach 1.5 during an operational sortie.It’s very difficult, consumes time and more importantly gas to achieve thosespeeds, especially when encumbered with weapons and fuel tanks asfourth-generation machines inevitably are in any combat configuration. Navypilots will tell you that the Super Hornet’s performance is more thansufficient.

 

But one area where the Super Hornet is somewhat lacking istransonic acceleration. With the new enhanced engines which produce more than20% more thrust than the existing power-plants being developed by GeneralElectric, that could change. Mark Gammon, Boeing senior manager for F/A-18advanced capabilities, says that under certain flight conditions, accelerationtimes are reduced by a factor of four. The engines are also more fuel-efficientand durable than the existing F414 variants.

 

Should the Navy buy the new engine, the existing SuperHornet inlet has a 10% margin for increased mass-flow, so it could beretrofitted to the existing fleet with ease, Gammon says.

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