Ran in The Weaponeer on 10 June 1999

F/A-18 Super Hornet development testing complete

NAWCWD, CA-Following more than 270 test flights and more than 2,000 laboratory test hours, the F/A-18 Advanced Weapons Laboratory (AWL) at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division concluded several years' contribution to the development of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The Super Hornet program's Operational Test Readiness Review hailed the completion of the development test phase on April 28.

Praising the entire Super Hornet team following the successful program review, RAdm. (sel) James Godwin said "Everyone pulled hard in achieving this and I can't come close to getting to everyone that helped along the way, as this was a monumental effort. My hat is off to everyone that worked on this brief and all the events leading up to it."

Starting in 1991 and culminating in 13 months of intensive flight test operations at the AWL, NAWCWD has worked with the NAVAIR Team at Patuxent River, including Boeing and its subcontractors, in the development of the mission system elements of the Super Hornet. The effort included the integration, through software development and subsequent testing, of sensors, fire control systems, cockpit displays and weapons that make the E/F a more capable aircraft than the F/A-18C/D.

"The Advanced Weapons Lab, and all of the Weapons Division for that matter, came through with flying colors," said Charles Bechtel, Weapons Division F/A-18E/F project manager. "Either directly or indirectly, someone from nearly every group at NAWCWD contributed to the success of this program. It's that type of broad-based support that makes this an ideal environment for this type of effort."

LCdr. Pete "Felix" Matisoo, Weapons Test Squadron's pilot of the year, talked about flying the Super Hornet. "The opportunity to fly the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet during the engineering, manufacturing and development phase was unique and exciting. During this phase of testing, we needed to not only prepare for operational testing, but ultimately to ensure the aircraft would perform for the fleet aviator in combat. This involved everything from simple missions to check that the software that controls the aircraft and weapon system was coded correctly to advanced missions to check the aircraft's operation in simulated combat situations."

"And the survivability tests developed by members of the electronic warfare team at the AWL, were revolutionary in the flight test world and a real highlight of the testing accomplished at China Lake," added Matisoo. "They involved participation from the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at Fallon, VX-9 at China Lake, and the U.S. Air Force."

Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron Nine (VX-9) at China Lake now has the responsibility of putting the Super Hornet through its paces in a six month operational evaluation. Their flight testing will explore the complete capabilities of the aircraft, including a significant amount of air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strike, and evaluations aboard the aircraft carrier, USS John Stennis.

Many of the mission system elements are common between the F/A-18C/D and the E/F models of aircraft; however, there are a few significant differences. The Super Hornet cockpit includes three new LCD displays to provide situational awareness. One of these displays includes a touch screen capability that allows the aircrew to enter information such as navigation way points and radio frequencies. Two additional outboard weapon stations are capable of carrying a wide variety of smart weapons. And a newly integrated electronic warfare suite helps to protect the aircraft.

Driving all these changes is the largest software upgrade ever implemented in the F/A-18 program.

"The fleet pilot will truly enjoy this aircraft," said Matisoo. "It incorporates all that is good about the F/A-18C/D and more. Additional weapons carriage capability makes the aircraft both more lethal and more survivable, and the increased carrier recovery payload will allow squadrons to effectively utilize this new capability. The new displays make data entry easier and enhance situation awareness. Greatly enhanced survivability will allow tactical flexibility and greater mission effectiveness. Additional capabilities to be incorporated in the aircraft prior to the first operational deployment will make the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet an unmatched tactical fighter aircraft."

According to Bechtel, "The end of the EMD program actually marks the beginning of a busy future for the AWL. The EMD program addressed the fleet's requirement for a more survivable aircraft with greater range and ordnance carriage. Since the time that original requirement was documented, the Navy has identified additional requirements for the Super Hornet that will provide the fleet with the increased capabilities required throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft. The AWL will play a key role in developing and testing these new capabilities over the next decade."

In support of the new development efforts, several more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets will be arriving at the Weapons Division over the next few years to supplement the prototype model that has been used over the past 13 months. The next Super Hornet will arrive in October.

For Super Hornet photographs, check out the photogallery pages.