Home » Aviation » Boeing to Begin Buying Super Hornet SLEP Materials This Summer Ahead Of Expected 2018 Induction of First Jet

Boeing to Begin Buying Super Hornet SLEP Materials This Summer Ahead Of Expected 2018 Induction of First Jet

Sailors perform maintenance on an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Top Hatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14 USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) hangar bay on Jan. 22, 2016. US Navy photo.

Boeing will begin buying material this summer ahead of inducting the first F/A-18E/F Super Hornet into the service life modification program sometime next year, company officials told USNI News.

The Super Hornet life extension program will begin whenever the first jet hits its 6,000 flight hour limit, and the company expects that will happen next year. A Service Life Assessment Program (SLAP) is ongoing to determine what parts of the airplane will have to be replaced, reinforced or otherwise modified to help the jet get 3,000 more hours of life, Boeing F/A-18 and EA-18G Programs Vice President Dan Gillian told USNI News earlier this month.

“We’re still working through that but we have a lot of that behind us, with a good understanding of what needs to be fixed,” he said.
“The general statement is that, compared to the classic (F/A-18A-D) Hornet, there’s not a single center barrel section kind of thing; it’s more distributed, smaller throughout the airplane. The big challenge that has really hurt the classics that we’re trying to deal with is the unknowns. So our engineering analysis tells us what we should have to change, the tear-down airplane will validate our engineering was right, and then it’s dealing with the unknowns.”

When the Hornets began their service life extension program in 2012 it quickly became apparent that each airplane had its own unique challenges beyond replacing the center barrel section, and the depots charged with performing the modifications were not equipped to rapidly address these “unknowns” that were unique to each plane and not discovered until workers started pulling the planes apart.

To ensure the Super Hornet life extension work goes smoother, Gillian said Boeing is taking a very data-driven “factory production approach” to preparing for the work.

“Today (with Hornets), when you open and airplane and find a problem, you’re now lead-time away from going to order a part to bring it back, compared to using predictive tools and data analytics to have parts available, so when you find a part that needs to be fixed that you weren’t expecting, you can deal with it in a shorter turn,” he explained.

As part of the SLAP analysis work, engineers gathered as much data as they could about the material condition of the Super Hornets and developed an idea of what the service life modification work would look like, and they are now beginning to open up two learning aircraft in St. Louis to see if their predictions match up to the actual condition of these two planes.

“The learning aircraft were designed to help us get a better feel for the unknowns,” Gillian said.
“We do a lot of work with the Super Hornets down at Cecil Field today, that gives us information about corrosion and things like that. And we’re partnered with the Navy and helping support the fleet squadrons and [Fleet Support Teams], so there’s a lot of information that helps us build, using data analytics, models for what we need to buy and put on the shelf to be ready to deal with unknowns, so we can increase the throughput.”

Mark Sears, Boeing’s service life modification program director, said in the same interview that as the SLAP work wraps up, “we’re finishing our analysis for what material we want to lay in in advance of the first aircraft, and we’re facilitizing out St. Louis both from a facility, a tooling and a people perspective.”

Sears added that Boeing will begin buying materials for the first plane’s life extension work in mid-summer, in anticipation of the first life extension contract coming in early 2018 and the first plane being inducted shortly after that.

Gillian said the first few airplanes would probably take about a year and a half to complete, with Boeing looking to lower that figure as time goes on. He declined to say how long the classic Hornets have taken on average but noted the gap in work for each plane due to having to order parts and wait for them to be manufactured and delivered before the life extension work can continue. Gillian acknowledged that some Super Hornets may be more problematic than others but said he expected a much greater throughput at the depots with the Super Hornets compared to their classic Hornet predecessors.

  • CharleyA

    An interesting question would be is the Navy seeking to modify the early lot / Block I Super Hornets with new radars, CFTs, and other components from the Block II and notional Block III Super Hornets.

    • delta9991

      Doubtful. These items are pricey (I may be mistaken, but I believe I recall that the Block I has to have almost the entire nose rebuilt for Block II items such as the radar) and some (such as the CFTs) would need to be fully tested and integrated into the airframe. I think any chance of a “proper” Block III Super died when Boeing’s most recent proposal didn’t feature the F414 EDE engines. If we’d signed on with India and Sweden to develop the 414 EDE I think we’d see Supers in either a new build or refurbished to Block III standard (not the foolish one that Boeing initially pitched with “enhanced stealth” and all the other nonsense to “replace the F-35”) but alas, that time has come and gone.

      • CharleyA

        I suppose it depends on what the SLAP informs. If they have to really tear into the Block Is to do the SLEP, then it might be economical to convert them to Block II/III. Or they can forego SLEPing Block I Super Hornets altogether, and use the 140+ new Super Hornets that Congress wants to add to replace them, and only SLEP Block IIs. That way, it leaves room for the full 260 unit F-35C buy.

        Perhaps GE can apply some variable cycle technology to the F414, and re-address powerplant options in the 2020’s – after all the Super Hornet will be around until the 2040s.

      • USNVO

        I think Boeing is positioning the Block III SH as a replacement for the Block Is and an upgrade for the Block IIs. The argument is pretty straight forward. Block I jets have been rode hard and put away wet, why not buy more Block II jets now, the line is open and that is easier than trying to SLEP very many block Is and just a little bit more expensive. As the Block IIs come in for SLEP upgrade them to Bock III for just a little more money. Not an F-35 but way better than a SLEP’d Block I.

    • Oskar

      No. They don’t even have the forward fuselage for the Lot II/III cockpits.

  • b2

    SLEP on SuperHornet? Already? It just came out in numbers commencing in 2004… Wow! Must have been all that aerial refueling weight they carry or all that on-call CAS missions they held overhead the “battlefield” during the Obama years… Add this SLEP in with the depot crisis and you have double jeopardy… BTW, missed in the article but SLEP has a cost associated to consider. SLEP for F-18C’s we started last decade cost $xxM per jet x hundreds of jets (check the record)…. The SuperHornet series is a bigger aircraft- use your imagination, SLEP isn’t an avionics upgrade but an industrial effort…
    In reality we have no other option, right? All that out of service time just to conduct SLEP and D-level maint is what really hurts. Buying more new E/F/Gs helps because we can’t depend on F-35C being ready but overall is a peak that can’t be climbed….
    Of course those of us few who championed retaining and even bringing back S-3B Viking tankers to at least “mitigate this crisis” predicted this exact scenario happening as early as last decade… Yet were consistently and systematically shot down for talking about it nearly every year since….
    This is beyond irony. it’s almost like you can’ make it up.