Boeing has conducted the maiden flight of the first F/A-18 Super Hornet in the new Block III configuration.
A video posted on Boeing’s Youtube channel shows the two-seat F/A-18F (F287) take off and perform a series of manoeuvres before landing.
Two flight test examples will be delivered to the US Navy (USN) in the coming weeks. These will familiarise pilots with Block III and perform carrier suitability testing. Operational jets will comence delivery in 2021.
The first flight of the Block III follows the last delivery of an F/A-18E/F in the Block II configuration in April.
The Block III upgrade incorporates several improvements such as structural and sensor upgrades, greatly improved data throughput, a new infrared search and track sensor, as well as conformal fuel tanks to increase the jet’s range – these were not mounted on F287 for the maiden sortie.
In March 2019, Boeing secured a three-year, $4 billion contract for 78 Super Hornets in the Block III configuration. The work will involve converting USN Block II aircraft to Block IIIs, which will also extend the service life from 6,000h to 10,000h.
The Super Hornet is also operated by Australia, which has yet to decide whether to upgrade its 24 Block II examples to the Block III standard.
In addition, Boeing has a contract with Kuwait for 28 Super Hornets. In April, Germany said it plans to obtain 30 F/A-18E/Fs to carry nuclear payloads, in addition to 15 of the type’s electronic warfare variant, the EA-18G Growler.
The Super Hornet is also engaged in fighter competitions in Canada, Finland and India.