A U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet has demonstrated it can take off from a 'ski jump' ramp, proving it can someday operate from international aircraft carriers.
The Navy and Boeing Co. tested this capability at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, according to a December Boeing release. The demo was conducted for India, which is looking to buy new carrier-based fighters that can launch from its short-runway ships.
Unlike most nations, the U.S. operates flat-decked carriers that launch aircraft via a high-powered catapult.
India operates the INS Vikramaditya, which lacks catapult systems for assisted aircraft take off. Its successor, the INS Vikrant -- the country's first locally built carrier -- will also use a ski-jump takeoff ramp.
"The first successful and safe launch of the F/A-18 Super Hornet from a ski jump begins the validation process to operate effectively from Indian Navy aircraft carriers," Ankur Kanaglekar, India Fighter Sales lead for Boeing, said in a statement. "The F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet will not only provide superior war fighting capability to the Indian Navy but also create opportunities for cooperation in naval aviation between the United States and India."
The Super Hornet is undergoing new modifications to give it smarter tactical targeting, improved communications and advanced cockpit displays. Known as the Block III configuration, the upgrades will also extend the plane's service life into the foreseeable future.
Boeing's Block III Super Hornet comes with a larger variety of weapons, extended range, advanced targeting and sensor systems, and better fuel efficiency.
The Navy plans to have Boeing convert more than 500 of its Block II jets and produce nearly 80 new Block IIIs through 2024. The new jets' first deployment is expected sometime in 2022. The Navy accepted its first two Block III-version jets for test in June.
The F/A-18 joins the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in conducting ramp-assisted launches.
In 2015, the F-35's short take-off/vertical-landing (STOVL) B-variant launched off the Pax River test ramp to prove the ability to operate from U.K. and Italy's aircraft carriers -- two countries that also fly the F-35.
Next year, the U.S. Marine Corps' F-35B will begin a first-of-its-kind deployment on the British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth. Apart from the Royal Air Force, the Marine Corps is the only other service to operate multiple F-35B fighters; Italy has a single B-variant operated by its Navy.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.