How far can a Super Hornet fly at its top (supersonic) speed, assuming it's in a clean configuration, i.e. no external tanks and no ordnance?

  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia says the Super Hornet's ferry range is 1,800 nmi (2,070 mi, 3,330 km) $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2016 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ Aircraft being ferryed typically cruise much slower than at max cruise, and can therefore exceed the "max cruise" range by a good amount. Dan, any idea by how much? HNY! -Skip $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2016 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


An estimate:

An F-18E Rhino can only obtain its maximum speed of Mach 1.8 only at 36,000 ft in ideal air conditions and only in a clean configuration i.e. no external stores.

At 36000 ft at STP, Mach 1.8 translates to approximately 550 m/s or 1069 KTAS using the equations:

v = M*SQRT(g * R * T)

Where v is the velocity of the jet in m/s, M is the Mach number, g is the ratio of specific heats, R is the Ideal Gas Const. and T is temperature in Kelvin (use OAT at -40 C, 233 K).

Now an F-18E holds 14,400 lbs of fuel internally. The GE F414 engine burns about 36,000 lbs/hr of fuel in full afterburner, so a total fuel burn of 72,000 lb/hr would be typical for this power output. Assuming the Rhino could start at these altitudes and at Mach 1.8 with the tanks topped off, that gives us 14400/72000 = 0.2 hr or 12 minutes of flight time. Ignoring upper level winds this would give us a maximum range of 213.8 NM.

This might be enough to put warheads on foreheads, then run like hell back to friendly airspace and a tanker or a carrier but it's not very good for a long range cruise profile.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The idea that you would run dry after twelve minutes really drives home just how fuel-hungry the full afterburner mode is. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2016 at 10:05

I cannot provide a quantitative answer to the question, but can provide our tactical understanding of the situation in the light attack A7E.

The A7E was not designed to fight, but was designed to put bombs on target with long legs to and from. It could turn in a fight, but was not expected to win in the performance envelope, unless there was a coordinating flight of A7'S fighting. That said cunning and trickery have brought down a lot of aircraft in the air-air arena.

Our tactic was to come in low where our subsonic speed and relatively low fuel consumption put us at an advantage. Going supersonic has high fuel costs when you are at the ground, and little tactical adavantage. The idea was by the time they got behind your wingspan they had used a lot of their fuel. If they get behind your wing, jettison all stores and turn. If they are in burner, which they most likely will be because you have air-air missiles too, all you have to do is last 30 seconds in the fight before they leave or burn out.

The F14 often went to burner in the cat. Their first call off the deck was, "Hey, where is the tanker!"

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps in the "old days", but in their last 10 years, the F-14A could go to burner on the cat, not the F-14B or D. The B/D had too much chance of uncontrollable asymmetric thrust if an engine failed going down the cat-stroke, so they restricted to mil-power. Frankly, they had significantly more thrust out of each engine so it was rarely as much of an issue. (Tomcat bubbas typically had the same "tanker" jokes about Hornets, so I guess it's full-circle :-) $\endgroup$
    – r2evans
    Jul 7, 2017 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ You know you are old when you not only scroll, but keep scrolling, to get to your birthday on a website. I remember talking to my grandfather, who has since passed away, about the Model T's he drove. And then there was the day I was telling a WWI pilot I knew at the time about a tough simulator I went through. The instructor forced me to my standby attitude indicator and pressure instruments for a VOR approach, fluctuating oil pressure, and my divert field at minimums. He exclaimed, "Holy s&*t you had attitude indicators." Can't wait till that happens to me. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron
    Jul 9, 2017 at 1:12
  • $\begingroup$ One of the things I truly enjoyed was circling the ship at 5000 feet with a buddy store. Alone in the cockpit, watching the deck on a beautiful moonlit night. $\endgroup$
    – Aaron
    Jul 9, 2017 at 1:17

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