The Navy has taken the next step in the Blue Angels’ long-planned conversion to flying the F/A-18 Super Hornet in a $17 million contract with Boeing.
The Navy announced Monday that it had awarded the contract for Boeing to purchase equipment needed to convert nine F/A-18 Super Hornets for the Pensacola Naval Air Station-based Blue Angels.
Justin Gibson, a spokesman for Boeing, said the contract was the first step in a lengthy process.
Boeing will begin painting the nine Super Hornets blue and gold, adding smoke generating equipment, changing the cockpit configuration and doing other things necessary for the jets to be used by the elite fighter jet demonstration team under a second contract, which should be awarded soon, he said.
“This was a contract for us to begin procuring the kits we need for the conversion. The work won’t begin until we receive the contract for the modifications,” he said.
According to the Navy’s announcement of the contract, the work is expected to be completed by December 2021, but Gibson said the time frame is subject to change.
The Navy has not said when it anticipates the newer jets will replace the aging F/A-Hornets in the demonstration.
Blue Angels spokesman Lt. David Gardner did not immediately return messages seeking information about the conversion. The Navy’s Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland, which issued the contract, also did immediately return messages.
The Blue Angels website states the Super Hornet is 25 percent larger and can fly 40 percent farther than the Hornet.
“While the Super Hornet has more recent technology, the Hornet has been a reliable asset for 30 years, and its many capabilities continue to meet the needs for the demonstration,” the website states.
Converting the nine Super Hornets for use by the team will also include adding external look-back cameras and inverted flight systems and changing the jets’ canopies, Gibson said.
The Blue Angels typically receive aircraft after they have been flown for years in the regular Navy fleet. The Super Hornet has been in operational use by the military since 2002.
The Blue Angels have flown the F/A-18 Hornet longer than any other aircraft in the team’s 72-year history. The team began flying the Hornet in 1986.
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In a 2016 Pensacola News Journal story about the Blue Angels 70th anniversary, former Blue Angels pilot Gil Rud discussed the conversion from the A-4F Skyhawk II to the Hornet. Rud oversaw the conversion, which took place between the 1985 and 1986 season.
He said the team went to Jacksonville Naval Air Station and spent months revamping the show using the new aircraft.
“We put away our blue (flight) suits and put on our regular flight suits,” he said. “We had to change the show to utilize the strength of the F-18,” he said.
Melissa Nelson Gabriel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-426-1431.
Blue Angels aircraft
Aircraft flown by the Blue Angels through the team’s 70-year history:
- 1946: F6F Hellcat
- 1946-1949: F8F Bearcat
- 1949-1950: F9F-2 Panther
- 1951-1955: F9F-5 Panther
- 1955-1957: F9F-8 Cougar
- 1957-1968: F11-1 Tiger
- 1969-1974: F-4J Phantom II
- 1974-1986: A-4F Skyhawk II
- 1986-2010: F/A 18 Hornet A/B
- 2010-Present: F/A 18 Hornet C/D