First Blue Angel F/A-18 Super Hornet arrives in Pensacola to mark 'historic' day

Capt. Eric Doyle, Director of the Blue Angels Super Hornet Transition Team, departs Boeing Cecil field for Naval Air Station Pensacola in the first Blue Angels F/A-18 Super Hornet on Monday, July 27, 2020. The Blues are transitioning to a fleet of 11 Super Hornets ahead of the 2021 air show season.


By JAKE NEWBY | The Florida Times-Union | Published: July 29, 2020

PENSACOLA, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — As the old saying goes, it's great when a plan comes together.

Not even COVID-19 could halt the Blue Angels' long-anticipated plan to swap out Boeing F/A-18 "Legacy" Hornet fighter jets in favor of the more powerful F/A-18 Super Hornets in time for the 2021 air show season.

On Monday morning, the first painted Super Hornet made its triumphant arrival in Pensacola. It was delivered from Naval Air Station Cecil Field in Jacksonville, where a lot of Super Hornet transitional maintenance and training takes place.

Garrett Hopkins, the transition maintenance officer for the Blue Angels Super Hornet program, said an unpainted Super Hornet is already in tow at U.S Naval Air Station Pensacola. But Blues fans got to see what the future holds, as far as a finished product is concerned, courtesy of the squadron's social media channels on Monday.

"It was nice to see it out of the hangar (in Jacksonville) and safely flown here, parked in between the Legacy's," Hopkins said. "It was an historic day and a great day, and we'll have many more to follow, hopefully."

The F/A-18 was flown into Pensacola by Capt. Eric Doyle, director of the Blue Angels Super Hornet Transition Team.

The entire 11-jet Super Hornet fleet should arrive at U.S. Naval Air Station Pensacola before the end of the year, Hopkins said. The new jets are on schedule to begin officially flying for the Blues in April 2021.

"Acquiring our first Super Hornet is a momentous step in our inevitable transition scheduled for later this year and it required a herculean effort to get these fleet jets ready for our team," said Cmdr. Brian Kesselring via a Blue Angels Facebook post Monday. Kesselring is the commanding officer and flight leader of the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels.

The new model is a more powerful jet, according to the Blues, especially at lower altitudes. The Super Hornet is 25% larger than the outgoing Hornet, has greater fuel capacity, can fly 40% farther than the Hornet and remain on station 80% longer than the Hornet.

"Once we get modified aircraft, there's a team that will put these in the air and try to match the current demonstrations as much as possible," Hopkins said in a March interview with the News Journal. "You could see some deviations to maneuvers, for sure, but to the naked eye, I don't think you're going to see a big difference."

One of the new Super Hornets will fly into Pensacola with celebrity status. The refurbished F/A-18E Super Hornet No. 165536 that appears in the upcoming "Top Gun" movie sequel will be a part of the 18-jet fleet.

"Top Gun" will hit theaters on Dec. 23 after having its summer release day postponed due to COVID-19.

Know your history: Blue Angels aircraft since 1946

Grumman F6F Hellcat: June to August 1946

Grumman F8F Bearcat: August 1946 to 1949

Grumman F9F-2 Panther (first jet): 1949 to June 1950

Grumman F9F-5 Panther: 1951 to winter 1954-1955

Grumman F9F-8 Cougar: Winter 1954-1955 to mid-season 1957

Grumman F11F-1 Tiger (first supersonic jet): Mid-season 1957 to 1969

McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II: 1969 to December 1974

McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II: December 1974 to November 1986

Boeing F/A-18 "Legacy" Hornet: November 1986 to present

Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets: Coming in 2021

Jake Newby writes for the Pensacola News Journal.

This report originally published to pnj.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network-Florida.

©2020 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)
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The first painted F/A-18 Super Hornet arrives in Pensacola on Monday, July 27, 2020.