Boeing builds Super Hornet digital displays for possible 2015 upgrade

SAINT LOUIS — Boeing has designed a digital, 11 x 19-inch moving map display to install into the cockpits of its F/A-18 Super Hornets as part of the larger round of upgrades planned for the navy fighter jet.

Boeing Military Aircraft President Christopher Chadwick said Boeing expects U.S. and coalition navies involved with the F-35 program to seek F/A-18 upgrades to back fill against delays in the Joint Strike Fighter program.

Installing the Large Area Display that looks like a large, touch screen iPad is part of that upgrade package Boeing is developing. The first displays could be installed in 2015, said Philip Carder, a Boeing spokesman.

Boeing officials boast that a pilot can puncture the display’s screen with a screwdriver and expect it to keep working. Pilots can view six different screens that they can move around on the screen with a touch of their finger.

Radar screens can be manipulated to give a 3-D view of surface-to-air missile threats to account for altitude and terrain. If a pilot wants a better view of SAM threats, he can point and drag the screen to make it bigger.

Engineers have taken into account that pilots will be wearing gloves. Boeing leaders are working on streaming the feed from drones in the region directly into the cockpit, much like the Army does with its attack helicopters.

The U.S. Navy’s Super Hornet program manager did throw a bucket of cold water on potential F/A-18 upgrades at the Farnborough International Airshow this summer when he backed away a commitment from the Navy.

“The U.S. Navy has not committed to any of those yet from a domestic standpoint,” said Capt. Frank Morley in July.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • BlackOwl18E

    Hell yes! Looks great! It’s bigger than the F-35’s and twice as useful with the map software. This is also a much cheaper and more simple approach to the same requirement that the DAS attempts to satisfy with the F-35. Unlike the F-35’s malfunctioning helmet this gives the pilot the same situational awareness at high speed. The USN is actually planning to acquire the glass ****pit. That’s what they made the new Type 4 Advanced Mission Computer for. This Type 4 AMC is specifically geared toward providing improved imaging and data transfer faster for a new ****pit display:
    http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/arti

    The U.S. Navy will never say it up front, but they’re really tempted by the Super Hornet upgrades and the temptation is only getting stronger. They are quietly making a move toward getting this new ****pit display and it looks increasingly likely that the other upgrades will follow shortly. My guess is that they go for the conformal fuel tanks next.

  • blight_

    If the Navy doesn’t commit, it will mean pushing the cost of buying such an upgrade a little higher.

    The F-16 has more numerous exports, and upgrades to that platform are cost-reduced due to that economy of scale.

  • Lance

    Looks too BIG may be too confusing for a pilot who needs mutibile displays. However the F-15 and F-18 are getting major upgrades. But with cuts and the F-35 cutting into funds it may take longer than 3 years to upgrade them.

    • EJ257

      That’s just the enlarged mode to get a higher res, close up view. It can revert back to multi display mode. It’s a giant LCD screen so I imagine they can program it to display whatever they want, it whichever order the pilots prefer. This is truly a step forward.

    • RunningBear

      Actually, the “too Big” can be easily subdivided and configured by the pilot in their pre-flight. The display should be seen both as a whole and as many sub-divisions.
      FADEC can be on one overview display or multiple detail displays while the radar can be displayed on one overview display or multiple details displays, radar merged with IRST can display on one overview or mulitple….etc. The size of the glass is good, only so long as the pilot can make use of it. Great job Boeing! :)

      • Lance

        Still only one display when two can work by themselves when one is damages in combat is better than being blind from one malfunction.

  • Kole

    Thank god, something we could actually use! Way to go Boeing!

  • Mitch S.

    And pilots can watch HD movies on long patrol/ferry flights!

  • Peter Miles

    As a Brit the more I read this sort of thing the more I wonder why we ever decided to go for the F35 at all. We should have built our new carriers with cats and traps (and make made them nuclear but that’s another story) and bought F18’s. Proven, available planes at a reasonable (and known!) price. We even have RAF pilots already flying them!

    • William C.

      When have RAF pilots flown the Super Hornet?

      • Josh

        Not sure about RAF but RN pilots who were on Harriers are now flying F18’s off CVN’s in the US Navy.

        • Chops

          We still have a couple of conventionaly powered reserve fleet carriers that you Brits could get you hands on and probably have one up and running in 2 yrs. or so.

          • Peter Miles

            Now there’s a thought!

            How much do you want for them? :)

          • Chops

            If I had my way you could have one for free,that way you Brits could get your carrier quals taken care of by the time your QE carriers enter service,but you have to buy 75 Super Hornets to get it.haha

          • BlackOwl18E

            I agree with that. It would be good for the Royal Navy’s capabilities, good for our industry with the weapons purchases, and it’s also economically reasonable considering that the U.K. defense budget is experiencing harsher defense cuts than we are.

            It would also give them commonality with our forces since the Super Hornets could then operate on a single QE carrier if they outfitted it with a catapult.

      • Peter Miles

        They’re flying them now, off US carriers. It is part of a scheme between our two countries to keep our carrier skills up to date. As Josh says below some are Navy ex-harrier pilots but some are RAF as well

  • Musson

    It’s really the new Apple Ipad with the F-18 APP.

  • 4FingersOfBourbon

    All good until china hacks the trap door on it….

  • jsallison

    Last time I messed with MILSPEC touch screens your finger had to be bare and warmer than the screen. Do hope they’ve addressed that trivial issue.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Just thought I’d bring more good news to this discussion: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-rt-us-

    The USAF has finally decided to stop feeding excess money to the F-35 to account for the delays and cost overruns. The death spiral has started. I guess if anyone was going to kill the F-35 it would have to be the USAF.

    • William C.

      I know you desperately want a “death spiral” for the F-35, but no, this means that if Lockheed has a brain, they’ll accept the hit for any further delays/problems. Despite the Lockheed derangement syndrome going on here, they want orders for 2,400 jets just as much as any other aerospace company would.

    • Red

      Keep dreaming. The F-35 program is not going to be canceled in its entirety no matter how badly you may want it.

  • torquewrench

    “I think it’s more of a question of can a CVN get near enough to China to employ its airwing and can Chinese carriers hope to survive in an ocean with US SSNs.”

    Can US carriers hope to survive in an ocean with Chinese SSNs?

    It was a huge stroke of luck that the USSR fell apart economically before they could exploit their newly acquired capabilities in quiet SSN technology. (Big thanks to Toshiba and Konigsberg for illegally selling the technology in question to the Soviets.)

    The Chinese are busy working their way up the SSN quieting curve right now (by purchase, by intellectual property theft and by indigenous innovation). And once the Chinese get past a certain inflection point, the entire Pacific is going to become a very risky place indeed for American CVN deployments.

    • blight_

      I don’t think anyone is denying the intentions of the PLAN; but the real question is where they really are in terms of tech.

      I thought the aid from Toshiba et al went to the Russians, not the Chinese? At some point, you wonder how closely the two are collaborating, and on what fronts. The PLAN is probably doing independent espionage, rather than waiting for the Russians to give them things. And as the world’s outsourcing capital, they may be better plugged into what is state of the art in western technology than the Russians.

    • STemplar

      Given that the Chinese do less than a dozen patrol missions a year with their SSNs, have no way to communicate underway, haven’t integrated them into an actual task force, and have never conducted a single deterrence patrol with their lone SSBN, I would say for the foreseeable future the USN would wipe the ocean bottom with their junk.

  • blight_

    Who’s the prospective customer if not the USN? Just Australia? Hah.

    • BlackOwl18E

      Hahahaha, so true!

    • STemplar

      India might be interested.

    • HeavyArrow

      Switzerland, Canada (Major operator), Finland, Spain, Malaysia…

      • EJ257

        Theses upgrades are just for the E/F/G. No one besides USN and Australia operate the Super Hornets.

        • BlackOwl18E

          That is unless Canada and the other countries that operate the Legacy Hornet and planned on buying the F-35 decide to change their minds and acquire these upgrade Super Hornets.

          • blight_

            That said, what was the original reason for the switch from Hornet to Super Hornets? Is something Hornet sized more viable with modern engines?

          • BlackOwl18E

            The U.S. Navy wanted something that could replace a lot of the roles that aging aircraft did and they knew that they had to start planning ahead for when their current aircraft reached the end of their service lives. At first they decided to try replacing the attack aircraft role with the A-12 Avenger and the fighter role with Super Tomcat 21. However, the A-12 turned out to be a flop and had some corruption scandals. The Super Tomcat 21 was projected to be too complex and expensive. Upgrading the Hornet, which does both roles seemed like a good idea that was cheap and low risk, which turned out to be true. While the Navy was at it they figured that they might as well add some low observable tech, bigger size, more payload, more fuel, new systems, and other cool things. I guess the whole thing with the upgrades was that payload and range needed to be increased. The new upgrades take all of those increases in technology to a new level.

          • Praetorian

            You got to throw Brazil in there. The Super Hornet is in the Running for thier new aircraft, although the Rafale is the favor at the moment.
            If Brazil buys it could help pay for some of the upgrades for the Navy.

          • blight_

            I’m surprised Brazil isn’t dying to line up for some F-35A action.

  • the_ginger

    Cool toy, but what happens when the electronics fail? I hope this thing leaves enough space for the analog instruments in the 18. Electronics are awesome, but ask anybody that’s ever owned ANYTHING electronic, they all eventually break. Now, that said, I do think that this will be a vast improvement over the current display set up in the F-18, just seems like one more complicated and expensive thing to break

  • Lagomorph

    With all the sensors they are bolting to the airframes, a Large Area Display will be needed on F18’s, F16’s and F15’s or anything that’s’ going to be in the air until 2025.

  • Nicky

    It’s a step in the right direction and maybe it can reduce the pilots work load as well.

  • Vaporhead

    I like this idea. It would be interesting to know the total cost of the F-35 program when all is said and done. That includes the costs of the services having to upgrade their existing weapons system because of F35 delays and overruns.

  • Peter C

    We just keep blowing money on toys that don’t work. Ref. F-22 is still not combat capable and no one is responsible.

    Lets order another one that isn’t proven. Let’s call it Edsel. All decision makers in the Pentagon can buy their own and if they like it then we talk about it.

  • Speedy

    Mission log: Overflying Chinese fleet, got pinged a few times by their radar. Think that Chinese fighter tried to keep up for a while, till its engine flamed out. (< >) … New screen is cool, watched “Iron Eagle” again on the way over… Touch screen works well with the “Finger dots” on my gloves, but updating the SOE while flying across from base sorta sucked. Global roaming sat/4G prices are too high to update my map app on the fly… Right, enough time for a game of “Angry Bird Teams” with my squadron till we get back to base.. Love the wifi on this screen…

  • blight_

    Considering we’ve been fed a line on how the Hornets are getting dumped to replace a Hornet/Super Hornet lineup with a JSF-A/Super Hornet lineup…shouldn’t these displays still be on for the Navy?

    It’s a pity that a third party company doesn’t design a “standard” display that can be plug-and-play with the rest of the fleet. It would save mfrs like Boeing a ton of design money and a unified standard means less errors and redesigns in the long run. It may also simplify logistics if you don’t need to stock displays for multiple types and variants of aircraft.

  • Dfens

    Good to see Gene Adam’s dream of the big display in his fighter jet are still alive.

    • Gene Adam

      Dfens, I just woke up from a nap and saw my name, thanks.
      All of those Big Picture briefings were started 32 years ago. The HMD took 30 years to get into an airplane, this 209 square inch display is getting close to a Big Picture, but there is still 130 square inches that the pilot needs for look ahead and a true TSD (Tactical Situation Display). 11” inches is not enough vertical height because on a TSD the pilot is de-centered about 2.5 inches which gives a 8.5 inch look-ahead, only 2.5 inches more than 6” RADAR displays. but with 10 X the data and 100 X the pixel count with a map. the HUD on the Head HMD free’s up I.P.space for a 350 square inch display, the maximum possible and still marginal for excellent SA. At 83, I feel good, everything works and nothing hurts. Thanks again……..GA

      • Dfens

        Wow, I’m only responding to the legendary designer of the F-18 cockpit a year and a half too late, but, sir, it’s good to hear from you. A lot of the work I’ve done in my career owes it’s start to your pioneering efforts. In fact, I’m putting a 9×12 TSD in as part of a terrain awareness system right now. We’re getting there, just too slowly for my limited amount of patience and career life. Please enjoy your well deserved retirement time in the best of health. You’ve earned it.

  • idahoguy101

    It’s comparing apples and oranges folks. These are two issues with the f-35 generation 5 versus an upgraded F/A-18 generation 4.5 combat aircraft. It’s not just the aircraft. It’s the pilot training proficiency!!! Proficiency takes time and mucho money spent in advanced tactical training.

    An expert pilot in the upgraded F/A-18 generation 4.5 is very likely to kick a new generation 5.0 pilot’s butt into wreakage. Eventually as the generation 5 aircraft and pilot traing improves the advantage goes to him. But expect at least a ten year learnining curve for the PLA Navy if all goes well in making the new stealth Carrier aircraft safely operational.

    • blight_

      You don’t fly a F-22 “new”. The pilots who are cleared to fly the -22’s and presumably the JSF units will have acquired thousands of flight hours in legacy aircraft.

  • Steven

    Or a better upgrade to the Super Hornet is to make it REACH MACH 2 that’s what we need. But this upgrade will make it be a deadly 4.5 Fighter.