It’s not everyday you get to taxi in the back seat of an F/A-18F past an A380 just as the Patrouille de France flight display team, with its Alpha Jets, is finishing its flying display at Le Bourget, but it certainly is a nice way to close off an otherwise pretty hectic Paris Air Show week.
On Saturday, I got to take a flight an F/A-18F piloted by Lt. Cdr. Bryan Billington (call sign Billy Bob) from VFA-211, who has around 1,000 hours on the strike fighter after logging around 1,000 on the S-3 before making the transition to the fighter in 2005.
Although the aircraft was still fitted with the APG-73 radar, not the active electronically scanned array APG-79 now on more than 200 F/A-18E/Fs, Billington walked me through the differences the new sensor provides and it provided a telling picture. Whereas in air-to-air mode, the radar shows the vector of a single target, on the AESA that information is displayed on each of the target tracks.
Similarly, even though the APG-73 built the air-to-ground map relatively quickly, Billington says that is done even more rapidly and at greater range on the new system.
The radar image was on our right LCD, with the large moving map in the middle and the HUD repeater on the left.
Our flight, “Hornet 1,” took off from Le Bourget around 10:30 a.m. toward the southwest with max power, although the airspace restrictions owing to nearby Charles-de-Gaulle airport meant we couldn’t perform a max climb and also limited air space once we got into our area of maneuver around near Creil, about 40 mi. north of Paris. Our altitude to maneuver was restricted to 8,000-19,000 ft., further limited somewhat by clouds.
Billington also showed off some of the Super Hornet’s acrobatic capabilities. For this non-pilot, perhaps the most impressive is the high level of control the pilot can maintain over the aircraft at low-speed and high angle-of-attack. A maneuver that looks spectacular when watching from the ground is even more impressive when in the back seat. We reached around 48 alpha, with Billington still able to easily maintain directional control.
Boeing brought the two F/A-18Fs, on lease from the U.S. Navy, to Le Bourget via Denmark. The aircraft is in competition against the F-35 and Saab Gripen, with some decisions expected this summer on the way forward. Another big competition for the strike fighter is underway in Brazil.