June 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team received its first F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter plane this week as it transition to new equipment.
Boeing Co. announced on Wednesday that it delivered an unpainted example of the plane to NAS Patuxent River, Md., for flight testing and evaluation, the first of 11 expected to be delivered to the squadron, headquartered at NAS Pensacola, Fla., in 2020.
The Blue Angels, whose demonstrations this year have been limited to salutes to COVID-19 workers in U.S. cities, have flown F/A-18 Hornets, referred to as Legacy Hornets, for the past 34 years. Super Hornets are about 20 percent larger, faster and more advanced variants of the planes they replace.
The new planes will also receive modifications specific to their mission, including the addition of special fuel pumps to allow inverted flying, and a movement-resisting spring linked to the control stick to help pilots make more precise control inputs.
Tanks for airshow smoke chemicals, a stopwatch for timing maneuvers and custom-made navigation systems will be also be installed. The planes will be painted blue and gold, the standard Blue Angels colors since the squadron was formed in 1946.
"The Super Hornet is an iconic representation of excellence in naval aviation," retired Adm. Pat Walsh, vice president of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps services at Boeing, said in a press release.
"As Boeing continues to support the operational fleet of Navy Super Hornets, we are excited to see this platform enter a critical phase of its journey to joining the team," said Walsh, who was a Blue Angels pilot from 1985 to 1987.
It is unclear how the larger, heavier Super Hornets will perform in airshow situations, in part because the planes do not yet have the high number of flying hours accrued by Legacy Hornets. Since Super Hornets are in use by fleet squadrons in military situations, the Blue Angels now compete for the same spare parts and tools.
"We're forecasting parts requirements based on the Legacy Hornets but we don't know yet how the Super Hornets are going to break," Lt. Comm. Garrett Hopkins, a former Blue Angels maintenance officer who is now on the transition team, told Forbes. "It's a bigger airplane so that means we have to haul more on the road with us. We cram our C-130 [cargo plane] with personnel, parts and tools."