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Aging Super Hornets land in St. Louis for hi-tech upgrade at Boeing

Boeing FA-18 Super Hornet
Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Stephen G. Hale II | U.S. Navy
An F/A-18 Super Hornet from the Sunliners of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81 launches from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Boeing, the maker of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, is now out of the running for a contract for the Indian air force.

The U.S. Navy’s Super Hornet aircraft are coming home to St. Louis for a major makeover.

Boeing unveiled its Service Life Modification (SLM) program Friday with dignitaries and many of the engineers and factory workers who built the first Super Hornets 20 years ago in attendance. Designed for a lifetime of 6,000 hours in the air — many of the F/A-18s fighter jets are nearing that milestone and returning to Boeing for a mechanical overhaul and updates.

The first Super Hornet to arrive at Boeing to be inducted in the SLM program was on display at the ceremony. SLM will take in four Super Hornets this year and eventually ramp up to 40 planes per year. The work will be conducted at Boeing facilities in St. Louis and San Antonio. A total of 350 planes will rotate through the program.

The aging Block II F/A-18 Super Hornet will be updated to include features designed for the next generation Block III model. Upgrades will include an advanced cockpit system with a bigger touch screen, new computer programs, conformal fuel tanks, and stealth improvements.

“This is the most extensive service life extension program ever done at least on the Navy side and I think others will learn from it,” Navy Rear Admiral Michael Moran said.

When the Super Hornets return to service after a year of disassembly and updates, they literally will have a new lease on life. The makeover will extend the life of the plane by an additional 3,000 flight hours.

“For Boeing it’s about innovation,” said Dan Gillian, vice president and manager of the SLM program. “The engineers and men and women of the factory team are coming up with new ways to do work - that’s what’s really exciting for me about this program.”

The Navy awarded Boeing the first contract for the SLM project this spring valued at up to $73 million. When discussing the program, both Navy and Boeing officials talk about the work continuing until 2030 or longer.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said workers and small businesses in Missouri stand to benefit from SLM too. The supply chain for the project involves 800 suppliers in 44 states who employee an approximate 60,000 people. Boeing expects to employ 1,000 engineers on the project. McCaskill noted that she advocated for the modification program because it saves taxpayers’ money.

“It’s a big deal for jobs and the economy locally,” said Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-3rd District.

“These are great paying jobs, long term jobs because we’re looking over 15-20 years to be able to retrofit these planes and continue the line. So this is a very big deal, very big deal for the community."

Follow Melody on Twitter: @melodybird

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