WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 20 SEAPOWER / MAY 2016
The F/A- 18 has been the workhorse fighter of the Navy fleet for decades, and with the F- 35 Lightning II joint strike fighter still years from
fully taking over, the service is hard at work keeping its
aging fighters flying.
The service is in the midst of an effort to extend
the lives of some legacy F/A-18A-D Hornets — and
preparing to extend the entire fleet of F/A-18E/F Super
Hornets — to mitigate a strike fighter gap caused by
the delay of the F- 35. And this will be a very big year
for the Navy and aircraft manufacturer Boeing in the
mammoth effort to keep hundreds of fighters flying for
thousands of hours longer than they were intended.
Capt. David Kindley, the program manager for the
F/A- 18 and EA-18G programs, told Seapower that the
legacy F/A-18A-D Hornet originally was intended to
last for 6,000 flight hours — which makes it a challenge
to extend a good portion of the fleet up to 4,000 hours
longer than that.
“As we get to the end of that life, the question is
what do we do to extend that to keep the airplanes
extended a little while longer?” Kindley said. “There’s
two options. The first is to inspect
those airplanes, bring them into the
depot, pull them apart, find and fix
what’s broken, do an engineering
analysis, and once they’re inspected
they go back into the fleet. For the
most part, that’s what’s happening
to the Hornet fleet.”
The other option is the service
life extension program (SLEP). By
analyzing the fleet beforehand, the
program has “some advance under-
standing” of the items on the plane
that are “life limiters,” he said. This
analysis helps the program put
together a “SLEP kit” of what will
be needed on a large portion of air-
craft to get them to 10,000 hours.
“So the idea is, the jet comes in to the depot, I
go to the places I know will be problem areas and
replace them with pieces in the SLEP kit,” Kindley
said. “Then the jet sails out of the depot and never
has to come back in for inspection. That’s the nirvana
end state, and that’s sort of what we’re driving to the
The Hornets certainly need a good bit of help to get
them up to 8,000 and then to 10,000 flight hours. Fleet
officials are more tightly managing the life of the aircraft
in order to mitigate this problem, cutting down on the
fatigue on an airplane by cutting back on the maneuvers that are more strenuous on an airplane’s body.
Once they are brought in to the depot, the program
figures out which planes are in good shape and can be
given the green light to get to 8,000 hours.
“With the high-flight-hour inspection, in many
cases they’re inspected and kicked out the door to go
fly again,” Kindley said.
But to get to 10,000 hours, it takes a SLEP kit. And
the Navy has no intention of taking any aircraft beyond
10,000 hours, unless there was some specific request
The Navy needs to extend the lives of some legacy F/A-18A-D
Hornets — and its entire fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets —
to mitigate a strike fighter gap caused by delays in the F- 35
Lightning II program.
n About 150 Hornets will have their service lives extended from
6,000 flight hours up to 10,000, while more than 560 Super
Hornets will be extended to 9,000.
n Aircraft manufacturer Boeing currently is working on the service life assessment program for the Super Hornet, the precursor
to the service life extension program.
n The first Super Hornets will reach their 6,000-hour limit in 2017.
Keep Them Flying
The Navy undertakes a service life extension program
for its fleet of F/A-18s as it faces a strike fighter gap
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent