Defense Media Network

NAVAIR Fixed-Wing Aircraft Programs




NAVAIR actively supports F-35 testing with both the F-35B and F-35C flying out of Pax River. Currently the Navy plans to acquire 340 F-35Cs, while the Marines plan on buying 420 jets total, a mix of 340 B and 80 C models.


F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet

The F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet are the backbone of the Navy/Marine strike fighter force.

The Hornet originated from the 1970s Lightweight Fighter competition, redesigned by McDonnell Douglas and Northrop Grumman to meet Navy requirements for a multirole aircraft. Originally envisioned as a three-variant aircraft like the F-35 (F-18A fighter/A-18A attack/dual-seat TF-18A), emerging technologies facilitated combining variants into the F/A-18.

The single-seat F/A-18A and two-seat F/A-18B entered the fleet in 1983, following an extensive test program managed by NAVAIR. After acquiring 380 F/A-18A/Bs, procurement shifted to the F/A-18C/D in 1987. The C and D model Hornets incorporated upgraded radar, avionics, and new missiles such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM, AGM-65 Maverick, and AGM-84 Harpoon. A thermal navigation pod, forward-looking infrared targeting pod, and the F404-GE-402 Enhanced Performance Engine were also added. Production of the C/D or “legacy” Hornet ended in 2000.

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Two United States Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets prepare to refuel from a Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft over Iraq. Royal Australian Air Force photo by Sgt. Murray Staff

The F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265) supports, sustains, and acquires legacy and Super Hornets for seven international customers and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

The Super Hornet is an evolution of the F/A-18A-D, a multirole strike fighter with newer Advanced Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, improved avionics, greater range, and increased payload capacity. The single-seat F/A-18E and two-seat F/A-18F feature a 25 percent larger airframe, larger rectangular air intakes, and more powerful GE F414 engines. The F/A-18E/F was commissioned in response to the need to replace A-6 and A-7 attack aircraft and F-14 fighter aircraft in the 1990s. Super Hornet testing began at NAS Patuxent River in 1996 and F/A-18E/Fs started joining the fleet in 1999. More than 500 Super Hornets have been produced, and though a small portion of that production has gone to Australia, PMA-265 supports every F/A-18E/F built. After authorizing low-rate initial production of the infrared search and track (IRST) system for the Super Hornet in late 2014, PMA-265 introduced the IRST sensor pod to the fleet in 2015 and began flight testing the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).


EA-18G Growler

The Boeing EA-18G Growler has taken over the electronic attack mission from the EA-6B in Navy service. A variant of the combat-proven F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Growler combines the Super Hornet’s maneuverability, AESA radar, and air-to-air missiles with the latest avionics suite evolved from the legacy Improved Capability III airborne electronic attack system.

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Two EA-18G Growlers from the Cougars of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 139 fly in formation before landing on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Philip Wagner Jr.

The Growler arrived at NAS Patuxent River for testing in late 2006 and debuted in the fleet in 2009. The aircraft is expected to receive the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) in 2020.

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...