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The Super Hornet’s at sea and about to make its mark in combat
BY ELLEN LEMOND-HOLMAN
After years of planning, development, flight-testing and training, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is now facing the ultimate testcombat.
The Super Hornet is the U.S. Navy's first new fighter in nearly two decades. It has survived political opposition, funding cuts and aeronautical design challenges, and now stands poised to make its mark in the war on terrorism.
On July 24, U.S. Navy Lt. Corey Pritchard made aviation history when he brought his Super Hornet aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. That first "trap" aboard the Lincoln marked the beginning of the Super Hornet's first operational deployment.
With the aircraft's tail hook extended, the more than 30,000-pound Super Hornet slammed down on the carrier deck. The hook caught one of the four arresting cables that stretch across the deck as Pritchard applied full power to the two GE F414 engines that provide the aircraft's 44,000 pounds of combined thrust. Pritchard had to do this in case he missed the arresting wires, or boltered, which would've made it necessary to take off immediately from the short carrier deck, circle and come in for another landing.
"I've wanted to fly my whole life," Pritchard said. "This is my first deployment, and being able to fly the Super Hornet on its first deployment is twice as good. I'm a ‘Super Hornet baby' because it's all I've flown. I had high expectations, and it's beat every one of those."
The 12 E-model, or single-seat, Super Hornets in strike fighter squadron 115, or VFA-115, are now bound for the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Although its final destination and mission remain classified, the Lincoln battle group is likely to support Operation Enduring Freedom during the next six months.
"My No. 1 goal is to bring everybody back," said Cmdr. Jeff Penfield, commanding officer of VFA-115. "Given the events of Sept. 11, my crew is extremely fired up for a step onto the world stage for this fight on terrorism. I have never felt this ready before for a deployment. We have the motivation, training and the right tools, which drives morale over the top."
A former Hornet pilot, Penfield was also part of Air Test and Evaluation squadron nine, or VX-9, the squadron that took the Super Hornet through what is arguably the most rigorous operational evaluation in U.S. naval history. The result? The Super Hornet successfully completed the test and received the best possible gradeoperationally effective and suitable.
In a tribute to 15 New York firefighters who died at the World Trade Center last September, one of the VFA-115 Super Hornets is painted with an insignia that depicts the New York skyline and refers to Engine 54 as the "Pride of Midtown, Never Missed a Performance." In addition, one of the aircraft is dedicated to the memory of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Otis Vincent Tolbert Jr., who was killed on Sept. 11 while at work in the Pentagon. "We are dedicating the next six months to these brave men," Penfield explained.
"They represent the thousands of people who tragically lost their lives Sept. 11."
Bigger and heavier than its F/A-18 predecessor, the Super Hornet actually has fewer parts and is easier to maintain. It is the product of innovative thinking and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques. Since initial concept development in the late 1980s, the Super Hornet program has continually challenged conventional thinking and established ways of doing business. The aircraft was designed to provide the U.S. Navy with greater payload, better payload "bringback," increased survivability, room for growth and greater range than the combat-proven F/A-18, which was produced in A/B and C/D models.
"First deployment of the Super Hornet is the culmination of years of hard work and commitment on the part of Boeing, members of the Hornet Industry Team and the U.S. Navy," said Tony Parasida, vice president of the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet program. "The Super Hornet is ready for combat, ready to defend our nation in the ongoing war on terrorism and ready to carry the men and women of the U.S. Navy safely into and out of harm's way."
Boeing leads an industry team of Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Electric that builds the Super Hornet. It's scheduled to replace the F-14 Tomcat and older F/A-18 models. Configured as a tanker, the Super Hornet returns a tactical airborne tanker capability to the U.S. Navy's carrier air wings. The Navy had lost that capability with the retirement of the KA-6D/A-6E. The Super Hornet can fly at the same speed as the aircraft it refuels, protect itself from enemy fire, transfer fuel to the strike aircraft and return unescorted.
For today's carrier air wings the Super Hornet means flexibility. The aircraft enables today's war fighters to shift quickly and easily from one mission to the next.
"The Super Hornet quite simply gives us more war fighting capability," Penfield explained. "We've done our training and now it's our chance to show the world what we can do. We are the best of the best, if you will."
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