Boeing was awarded $17 million to convert nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft into Blue Angel demonstration aircraft.

The Super Hornets are to replace the squadron’s McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets, which have been in use since 1986. The retrofit work will be done in St. Louis, Missouri and is expected to be finished in December 2021, according to the notice posted online 13 August.

The Super Hornet is 25% larger, has 40% greater range and can carry more weapons than its predecessor.

The notice did not say how the aircraft would be modified, but previously the conversion of the F/A-18 into a Blue Angel aircraft meant having the nose cannon removed, a smoke-oil tank installed and a spring installed on the control stick, which applies pressure for better formation and inverted flying, according to the demonstration squadron’s website. Otherwise, the US Navy says the aircraft that the squadron flies are the same as those in the fleet and each can be returned to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours.

Typically the squadron includes 11 jets piloted by naval aviators, not counting a Lockheed Martin C-130 called Fat Albert, which is manned by an all-Marine Corps crew.

The C-130 cargo aircraft provides logistics support for the team and performs its own aerial demonstration, which often includes several low passes over the runway, a short-field landing and a high-performance take-off. The C-130 previously demonstrated jet-assisted take-offs, but those ceased in 2009 after the Navy’s inventory of Vietnam-era rockets were expended.

The F/A-18E is a single-seat aircraft and the F/A-18F is a tandem-seat variant. Two seat Blue Angels are often used for backseat ride-along flights for members of the news media and “key influencers” – people the USN sees as unofficial recruiters.