PENSACOLA, Fla. — Boeing Aerospace delivered its first modified Super Hornet on Wednesday to begin an evaluation period prior to becoming a new Blue Angels jet next season.
A gray F/A-18E Super Hornet arrived at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland to begin its evaluation and flight testing. The aircraft is expected to arrive at the Blue Angels home base NAS Pensacola this summer.
The squadron will replace the current F/A-18C/D Hornets with the larger jets to begin their 75th anniversary year. The pilots and aircraft maintainers will begin training this November with at least eight of the Super Hornets delivered.
“The Super Hornet is an iconic representation of excellence in naval aviation,” Admiral Pat Walsh (Ret.), vice president of U.S. Navy & Marine Corps Services for Boeing, said on Wednesday. “As Boeing continues to support the operational fleet of Navy Super Hornets, we are excited to see this platform enter a critical phase of its journey to joining the team.”
Walsh, who served as a pilot with the Blue Angels between 1985 to 1987, was all smiles during the announcement.
Boeing is currently modifying older Super Hornets into Blue Angels jets at the company’s Cecil Field facility in Jacksonville. The aerospace manufacture is adding new equipment to the former Navy and Marine fleet jets.
“Major modifications include the addition of an oil tank for the smoke-generation system, fuel systems that enable the aircraft to fly inverted for extended periods of time, civilian-compatible navigation equipment, cameras and adjustments for the aircraft’s center of gravity,” Boeing spokesperson Jessica Carlton added.
The Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron’s 2021 schedule has been shortened to only 28 show sites. This will give the squadron an extra month to practice close formation flying in the new aircraft. Next season will kick-off in April at NAS Jacksonville.
The squadron will also add three new pilots in July to replace this season’s out going pilots. Three current pilots will return, and they each have Super Hornet piloting experience.
Current Blue Angels Boss, Commander Brian C. Kesselring, flew Super Hornets during his combat deployments aboard USS Harry S. Truman. He graduated from TOPGUN, the Navy Fighter Weapons School, in 2008.
Blue Angels solo pilot LCDR. Cary Rickoff and advance pilot LT. Julius Bratton will return in 2021 as the two solo pilots. Each flew Super Hornets during fleet operations.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)