QUESTION: “Something I’d like to see in the future is an article talking about the performance of the Hornet versus the Super Hornet. I often times see people comment that the legacy Hornet is more maneuverable than the Super, but I’d like to see an article by someone who has stick time in both who knows what they are talking about. Perhaps G.M. would be interested in this topic since he has flown both?”

Awesome question! This is a question I used to ask a lot while going through flight school. I am truly fortunate to have experience flying both jets. They are both awesome machines with tremendous capability, but you’ll see why I prefer the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet by the time you finish reading.

Keep in mind that these thoughts are just my opinions, and dozens of others have had the chance to fly both jets (although I’d say that most of those people would agree with most of these points).

How the Super Hornet Improves on its Predecessor

It is hard to believe that the Rhino has been flying for 20 years. The Super Hornet is a bit paradoxical to describe in relation to the Hornet because while it is evolutionary and looks similar (both inside and out), it is largely a new aircraft. When Boeing pitched the Super Hornet to Congress they said the jet would keep the same F/A-18 designation and use numerous common parts with the Legacy Hornet.

Ask A Fighter Pilot: Hornet vs Super Hornet!
A Legacy F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-106 “Gladiators” in a stunning celebratory “30 Years of Hornet” paint scheme simulates a bolter while performing at the NAS Oceana Airshow. (Photo by Jonathan Derden)

This economic argument helped Boeing win the contract. I am glad they did, because the Super Hornet is a much improved aircraft over its predecessor. Among the aircraft’s general improvements include more powerful engines controlled by FADEC, much larger internal and external fuel capacity, 2 more weapons stations, numerous avionics improvements, and some radar cross-section (RCS) reduction measures.

Besides the obvious larger size, you can distinguish the Rhino from the Legacy with some key design features; mainly the enlarged Leading Edge Extension (LEX), “sawtooth” outer wing, and larger rectangular intakes. All of those design features not only make the jet look badass but enhance the jet’s capabilities, too. We’ll talk about all of that in a bit.

Ground Ops

You can take a newly qualified Legacy Hornet pilot, put him into the cockpit of the Rhino, and he will be able to start up, take off, and land. It is that similar from a basic airplane standpoint. There are some very subtle changes to some of the switches and procedures, but outside of that, the ground ops are very similar. Folding the wings is easier in the Rhino (not that it was that hard before), and the only thing that may trip up a transition pilot will be the use of the Up Front Control Display (UFCD).

The UFCD replaces the old physical keypad in the cockpit for entering data. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you do, you’ll find it to be a huge upgrade. Think of it as going from a flip phone with a physical keyboard and screen to an iPhone, where the screen can show you anything you want. Another nice feature in the cockpit is the Engine Fuel Display (EFD) and Reference Standby Display (RSD) on the new Super Hornets.

You would also notice the full color cockpit displays instead of the monochrome displays of the Hornet. These all add a nice touch of technology to the cockpit that is not only ergonomic, but also adds to the cool factor. Once you’ve entered your data and have the motors fired up, the high-performance Nose Wheel Steering works exactly the same as it did before as you head towards the runway.