3.3 Is the EA 18G Growler Jet Substantially Different from the F18 Hornet Jet?

In a previous article, we showed that the EA06 Prowler jets hardly ever crashed while the F18 Hornet/Growler jets crash 36 times more often. We concluded this was due to the speed of the new jets (1200 miles per hour) versus the speed of the old jets (600 miles per hour). A Navy person claimed that our study was not accurate because the “EA18G Growler Jet is different from the F18 Hornet and F18 Super Hornet jets”. The question is what has caused all of the F18 Hornets and Super Hornets to crash and whether this would also cause Growler jets to crash more often that the older Prowler jets. We will therefore examine these differences in detail.


Here is a quote from a military contractor who makes parts for the 18E, the 18F and the 18G:
“The aircraft (FA 18 E Single seater Super Hornet, FA 18F Double Seater Super Hornet and EA 18G Growler Double Seater Super Hornet with a couple of pods under the wings) is powered by two General Electric augmented turbofan engines rated at 22,000 lb of thrust. A mid-span leading-edge sawtooth helps maintain aileron effectiveness and provides a high degree of maneuverability for the dog fighting role. Maximum speed exceeds Mach 1.7. The F-18 was the first US fighter capable of supersonic speeds without the use of afterburners. The F/A-18E/F is replacing the F-14 Tomcat, the A-6 Intruder, the F/A-18 A/B, older F/A-18 C/D’s, and the EA-18G will replace the EA-6B, and will operate from the nation’s aircraft carriers.”

Let's try to put the above quote into plain English.

The term FA means Fighter Attack airplane. It is an offensive weapon as opposed to a B37 which would be a bomber airplane or an EA airplane which is either an Escort airplane or an Electronic Warfare Attack airplane. Historically, the E stood for Escort but since the primary purpose of the EA 6B was Electronic Jamming or Electronic Warfare, the term today is used to mean an Electronic Warfare jet. So what the above paragraph said is that the 18E and F Super Hornets were replacing the 18C and 18D Hornets and the 18G Growler is replacing the 6B Prowler. Hidden in the paragraph is the fact that the Super Hornet and Growler use the same General Electric Engines rated at 22,000 pounds of thrust. This means that both planes – the 18EF and the 18G have about the same maximum speed and about the same noise level. Both planes are also made in the same St Louis Production Line.

Here is a quote from a 2006 report by the Navy:
“The Navy's approach is to produce a new electronic attack aircraft based on the F/A-18F, called the EA-18G...The cost of procuring 90 EA-18G electronic attack variants is estimated at $9 billion...F/A-18F and EA-18G models are expected to be produced on the same production line starting in FY2008 and achieve initial operational capability (IOC) in September 2009. The EA-18G would share the F/A-18F's airframe and avionics and be built on the same assembly line. The EA-18G would replace the F-model's cannon with a nose-mounted jamming processor and carry up to five ALQ-99 jamming pods. These are the same jamming pods currently employed by the EA-6B. ”

The report makes it clear that the EA 18G Growler is just a modified version of the FA 18F Super Hornet. The FA 18F is a two seater jet and the EA 18G Growler is also a two seater jet. The 2006 Navy report also makes it clear that, according to the Navy, the EA simply stands for Electronic Attack while FA stands for Fighter Attack. Both airplanes are attack airplanes. They are made for offensive rather than defensive purposes. They are both made to start wars not stop wars. The 2006 Navy report stated that the Navy wants about 500 F18EF jets at about $100 million each for a total cost of $50 billion. The Navy also wants about 100 F18G Growlers at about $100 million each for a cost of $10 billion. Note that the cost of the F18EF and the F18G is about the same.

The new jamming pods are what make the F18G Growler jets so boxy and so noisy. Because they also increase turbulence, the F18G Growler is likely to be less stable and more crash prone that its identical twin, the F18F.

After reviewing more than one dozen articles on this subject, there was not a single example of the F18G Growler being more stable than the F18F Super Hornet. These two jets are nearly identical and should have nearly identical chanced of crashing. Even though they both have the same engine and are both very noisy, the Growler is slightly more noisy due to turbulence caused by the pods under the wings.


Comparing the F18CD Hornets to the F18EF Super Hornets.
The F18AB jets were first made by McDonald Douglas (MD) in 1980. These jets were slightly modified with the replacement F18CD jets coming out in 1987. Both the F18CD and F18EF are made by McDonald Douglas (MD) – although the planes are now listed as being made by Boeing. This is because Boeing bought MD.

A key question is whether the new FA18EF jets are any safer or more reliable than the older FA18CD jets. The answer appears to be no. According to a 2006 Navy report:

“Although derived from an existing aircraft, the F/A-18E/F suffered noteworthy developmental challenges. In 1996, flight testing was suspended when problems with the Super Hornet's engines caused the aircraft to be grounded. The Super Hornet fleet was grounded a second time in 1998 when engine problems resurfaced. In December 1997, the F/A-18E/F's persistent performance problems in highspeed maneuvers led the Navy to delay FY1998 funding for the program, pending solution of these problems. First experienced in March 1996, the aircraft's "wingdrop" problem may occur during turns at speeds of .6 to .9 Mach (speed of sound).”

Note the admission that the FA18EF was “derived from an existing aircraft.” That existing aircraft was the FA18CD. But the improvements actually made the jet less safe rather than more safe. Here is another quote from the same report:

“The single-seat F/A-18E and twin-seat F/A-18F will replace the single-seat C and twin-seat D versions of the F/A-18.” Basically, the new Super Hornets are slightly bigger than the older Hornets and have a more powerful engine than the older Hornets. The new Super Hornets also come with “electronic warfare equipment.” But the two planes look nearly identical. Here is the Navy image of the two jets (CD and EF) side by side.


The reason for the slight increase in size was to allow the new jet to carry more stuff (called Pay Load by the Navy). Among the stuff the new jet carries is electromagnetic warfare stuff.

Below is a comparison chart of the two planes produced by the Navy in 2006.


The above table makes it clear that both the CD Hornet and the EF Super Hornet have about the same speed – with the newer plane slightly faster. Because they also have about the same shape, and because accidents are caused by a combination of high speed and shape, it is reasonable to assume that the EF is slightly LESS SAFE and MORE PRONE to crashes as the model CD. In fact, this is exactly what has happened as the newer EF jets have come online the rate of crashes has increased. Below is a table and graph comparing the speeds of the 18 CD, EF and G models to the speed of the Prowler jets that are being replaced.

Convert Mach to miles per hour: Mach 1 is 761 miles per hour.

Here is the above data in a graph:


Clearly the Growler, Hornet and Super Hornet are much more similar to each other than they are to the older and slower Prowler jets they are replacing. If anything the newer jets are in every case less stable and more likely to crash than the older jets. In particular, the Growler jet with its high speed and high wind turbulence is the most likely of any of these four jets to crash.

I had conducted all of this research before concluding that is was reasonable to lump Hornet crashes with Super Hornet and Growler crashes. They may not be exactly identical. But they are NOT substantially different. What is most odd is why a Navy pilot would be trying to defend the Navy decision to move from a very safe airplane to a much less safe airplane.
David Spring