The U.S. Navy’s legacy fleet of F/A-18 Hornets concluded their final voyage aboard an American aircraft carrier earlier this week. These jets have served as the Navy’s workhorse fighter since first becoming operational in 1983, and will continue their service lives in other capacities as the Navy makes room for Block III Super Hornet variants and the forthcoming F-35C.
Despite sharing a name and designation with the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the legacy Hornets employed by the U.S. Navy have trouble keeping pace with their more technologically advanced siblings. The Block II upgrades that saw many Hornets refit into Super Hornets could almost be characterized as the development of an entirely new aircraft, as their similarities in many systems run only skin deep.
Boeing pitched the idea of an upgrade to the Hornet platform as a more economical way to field an advanced fighter without developing an entirely new airframe. By reusing components from the Hornet where they could, they reduced inventory requirements for maintenance and repair on ship, reduced the cost associated with developing new systems, and did away with the significant expenditure developing a new air frame would require.
Instead, the Super Hornet saw the implementation of digitally controlled, and more powerful, engine platforms, a larger internal and external fuel capacity, improvement in avionics systems and two more munitions hard points. It also saw the addition of radar absorbing coatings intended to delay how quickly enemy aircraft or ground based radar installations might spot an inbound sortie.