Designated the F/A-18E/F Hornet the "Super Hornet" as it has come to be known is not just a slightly superior version of the original; it is almost an entirely new aircraft in itself. Developed by McDonnell Douglas at a cost of 81 billion dollars pitched in by the Pentagon and the Navy (one of the most expensive military aircraft programs in the world), the super hornet is 34 inches longer, and has 25 percent larger wing area than its predeccessor. The first prototype was flown in St. Louis, Missouri on November 29, 1995.

Designed to replace the Grumman A-6 Intruder, as well as the original F/A-18C Hornet, the super hornet has been given new, more powerful engines, as well as a greater fuel capacity allowing it more range than the original. Unlike the A-6 the super hornet will not only be able to carry out all-weather precision strikes, but it can also act as a highly agile air-superiority fighter, something the Intruder could never do. The F/A-18E/F comes with two variants, a single-seat aircraft that is more of an air-superiority fighter, and a two-seat variant that is the principal attack type.

The new hornet has been designed with a reduced radar cross section compared to its predeccessor by incorperating composite materials into its construction (which reflects radar less than metal.) Also, the weapons pylons and other key areas like the wing edges have been coated with RAM (radar absorbant material) and the engine intakes have been designed to reduce the reflection of radar as well. The super hornet has also been given upgraded ECM (electronic counter-measures) capability in the form of an ALQ-165 self-protection jammar, and the ability to carry up to three ALE-50 towed decoys. The design of the intakes and wings has also given the super hornet more agility than the original.

But everything has not been changed from the original hornet, and super hornet carries the same powerful APG-73 radar as the first hornet. The super hornet weighs almost five tons more than the original, and consequently can carry a considerably larger armament, including new advanced missiles such as the stealthy AGM-154 air-to-air missile. Despite the development of the Joint Strike Fighter the Navy has plans to purchase 660 super hornets, while the Marine Corp. is considering buying 340, although it is not sure whether they will continue in the program or opt to spend their money on additional Marine Corp. variants of the Joint Strike Fighter. Whichever way is chosen, the F/A-18E/F's will surely enter service before the JSF, possibly within the next few years.

Specifications

Type: Tactical fighter and strike aircraft

Powerplant: Two afterburning 21,901-lb.-thrust General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines.

Max Speed: 1,187 mph at 20,000 ft.

Range: 1,265 miles

Ceiling(Maximum altitude): 50,000 ft.

Weight: Maximum takeoff weight is 65,861 lb.

Weapons: One 20-mm M61A1 cannon and typically 18,000 lbs. of other weapons including AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-120 AMRAAM, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-154 JSOW (Joint stand-off weapon), BLU-109 JDAM, AGM-65E Maverick, AGM-84H SLAM-ER, and AGM-84D Harpoon, or various "dumb" bombs.

Dimensions:
Span: 46 ft.
Length: 61 ft.
Height: 16 ft.
Wing Area: 500 sq. ft.

*Some of the information in this writeup was provided by "Aircraft of the World: A Complete Guide"

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