US Navy F/A-18 pilot tells the story of an exhilarating Mach 1.6 test sortie flown in a clean Hornet

US Navy F/A-18 pilot tells the story of an exhilarating Mach 1.6 test sortie flown in a clean Hornet

By Dario Leone
Dec 12 2021
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‘No tanks, no pylons; nothing hanging on the jet whatsoever. This is just not something we see at an active F/A-18C squadron,’ Tim Hibbetts former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot.

‘I’d already flown my last flight in the squadron on Thursday and had all that water dropped on me, so when the skipper called early Saturday morning, it was a surprise,’ Tim Hibbetts, former US Navy A-6 Intruder and F/A-18 Hornet pilot, recalls on Quora.

‘He had a jet that just came out of maintenance and needed a functional check flight for a Monday “go.” Sure, skipper, whatever you want. It wasn’t going to be a big deal; I’d done dozens in the last few months and they were all pretty staid. You go up, check all the systems, shut down and restart the motors one after the other, then come back.

‘There was usually plenty of time and gas to play, but the jets usually had three drop tanks and two other hard point attachments making them very draggy. It was fun, but nothing to get inked for. It was going to be nice to have the entire area to myself, though. It was usually crowded off the coast of Virginia Beach during the week.’

Hibbetts continues;

VFA-34 F/A-18 print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F/A-18C Hornet VFA-34 Blue Blasters, NE401 / 165405 / 2006

‘I pop into the squadron, suit up, thoroughly read the book, and head out to the jet. To the completely slick jet. No tanks, no pylons; nothing hanging on the jet whatsoever. This is just not something we see at an active F/A-18C squadron.

‘The thing just leapt off the deck and I ran quickly through the profile, which called for a Mach run to make sure the engines didn’t go to idle at high speeds when you closed the throttles (causes indigestion). It ramped up so quickly, I realized I should probably try it again, just to be sure. So, I took a little time, got it up to its service ceiling of 50,000′, nosed over on a maximum acceleration profile, and was able to get to Mach 1.6, a couple points shy of the sticker speed. I will unequivocally say, though, that airplane, on that day, was not going any faster.

‘It was a good day.’

Hibbetts concludes;

‘P.S. I don’t know many other Hornet pilots who have been able to do this. It’s not a common configuration, nor a common set of circumstances. I’d conservatively say about 20% of pilots are able to red line a jet. In the A-6, the thing started shaking so bad at 500 knots, I don’t know anyone who was able or willing to push much more air out of the way.’

F/A-18F model
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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