Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) recently completed its last F/A-18A/B model Blue Angels conversion aircraft. The “Last Blue” was flown back to the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration squadron in Pensacola after its final test flight on April 8.
The aircraft was inducted by FRCSE at Cecil Commerce Center last year in order to undergo the transformation from fighter jet to aerobatic aircraft. FRCSE artisans have the experience, skills, and expertise to ensure the F/A-18 Hornet can perform both tasks with muscle and finesse. As a fighter jet, the aircraft has the responsibility to defend and protect the country during conflict, and during an air show, the ability to perform complete aerobatic stunts and maneuvers that please the multitudes of air show fans around the world. The conversion requires more than 3500 labor-hours of work.
A number of changes to the aircraft are necessary to convert the F/A-18 into a Blue Angels aircraft. Some of the changes include removing gun and missile launchers, installing new wiring from nose to tail, re-routing oil lines, installing inverted flight auxiliary fuel pumps, and installing an oil tank to facilitate the blue smoke that is emitted from the tail of the aircraft. Finally, the paint crew at FRCSE paints the aircraft with the famous Blue Angels navy-blue color scheme.
The Blue Angels replaced the A-4 Skyhawk when they received their first F/A-18A/B model Hornet in October 1986. These original aircraft were modified by what was then Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) North Island and then painted by NARF Pensacola prior to delivery. The squadron took their new Hornets to winter training in El Centro, California in January 1987 and began flying them in air shows immediately thereafter.
The next generation of Blue Angels aircraft will be F/A-18C/D models. These aircraft are currently being modified with AFC-483 (F/A-18C/D Blue Angels modification) by Boeing Aerospace Support Center at Cecil Commerce Center, Florida and painted by FRCSE, prior to delivery.
The first delivery of the C/D model aircraft is expected in upcoming months when Blue Angels peculiar software testing is completed by U.S. Navy Squadron VX-23 at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.
Over the years, artisans at FRCSE Jacksonville and FRCSE Cecil Commerce Center F/A-18 product lines have converted approximately 23 F/A-18 Hornets into Blue Angles aircraft. Major Nimock, F/A-18 Strategic Business team lead and Bruce McCurdy, F/A-18 product manager at Cecil, have had the honor of working with the FRCSE F/A-18 Blue Angels conversion team for a number of years. They have developed and maintained an excellent customer relationship with the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration team during this time. Nimock noted that one of the highlights resulting form this relationship was his coordinating a VIP flight in a Blue Angels aircraft for a former member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
The Blue Angels organization requested that McCurdy pass on their sincere gratitude to everyone at FRCSE who makes it possible for the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration team to be successful.
Nimock said, “It was indeed an honor for our FRCSE team to be involved with the Blue Angels and we, too, take extra pride in the fact that when the millions of people saw them perform at the air shows, we could say, ‘we made those.’”
McCurdy also personally acknowledge the contributions of Randy Williams and the Cecil Commerce Center F/A-18 Planned Maintenance Interval Product team, the ground/flight check shop, engineering, the aircraft strip/paint shop, and the support personnel. Their expertise made it possible for FRCSE to provide another fine quality product to our customers.