July 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels demonstration team received an F/A-18E Super Hornet this week, its first of 11 to replace its aging fleet.
The squadron has flown various series of Hornets for 34 years, and will replace its F/A-18C/D Hornets planes with F/A-18 Super Hornets by the end of the year. The first arrived at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., on Monday. The new planes will be 4 feet longer and with a wingspan 5 feet longer than their predecessors.
In 2018, the Navy awarded Boeing Co. a $17 million contract to convert nine F/A-18Es and two F/A-18Fs into planes configured for the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels' official name.
Among the new configurations, nose-mounted cannons will be removed, air show smoke systems and oil pumps to facilitate inverted flying will be installed, and each plane will receive the distinctive blue and gold paint for which the squadron has been known for nearly 75 years.
"Acquiring our first Super Hornet is a momentous step in our inevitable transition scheduled for later this year and it required a herculean effort to get these fleet jets ready for our team," Navy Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, squadron commanding officer, said in a statement after Capt. Eric Doyle flew the Super Hornet 350 miles from Boeing's Cecil Field, Fla., to Pensacola.
The Blue Angels will also acquire a dedicated support plane this year, a C-130J Hercules cargo plane known as "Fat Albert" and formerly flown by Britain's Royal Air Force.