The US Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has awarded Boeing a US219.6m (A$277m) contract to develop conformal fuel tanks for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler.
The contract is a cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order which covers non-recurring efforts associated with Engineering Change Proposal 6503 for the design, development, test and integration of the CFTs.
The CFTs sit atop the Super Hornet’s fuselage close to the aircraft centreline, and will be plumbed direct to the aircraft’s main fuselage tanks. They provide an additional 3,500lbs on fuel adding 110nm to the Super Hornet’s combat radius.
The additional fuel in the CFTs effectively frees up two weapons stations where drop tanks would normally be carried and, unlike drop tanks, has a zero aerodynamic effect. In fact, early flight tests with mock-up CFT shapes in 2013 showed a small improvement in aerodynamic performance in subsonic flight.
Boeing first proposed shoulder-mounted conformal fuel tanks for the Super Hornet as one of a number of upgrades for the jet, as part of what it dubbed the Advanced Super Hornet, at the 2010 Farnborough Airshow. It then flew a Super Hornet demonstrator fitted with aerodynamic mock-ups of the tanks, along with other Advanced Super Hornet improvements, in 2013.
While the Advanced Super Hornet concept has since been superseded by Boeing’s proposed Block III upgrade, the CFTs have remained a key element of the Block III, and are likely to be of considerable interest to the RAAF as it seeks to upgrade its Super Hornets in the 2020s and as its Growler nears full operational capability (FOC) in 2023.
Other proposed Block III elements include new large screen cockpit displays, advanced computers and a new core processor, an advanced electronic warfare suite, the centreline fuel tank-mounted infrared search and track (IRST) systems, and higher thrust GE F414EPE engines. Only the CFTs and the IRST have been funded to date.
The US Navy expects the CFT development to be completed by 2022, and that they will be retrofittable to current aircraft with few modifications.