Boeing is not saying much officially, but an F/A-18F fitted with prototype conformal fuel tanks made its first flight from St Louis on Monday. The company plans to add a centerline weapons pod and carry out a series of aerodynamic and radar cross section tests this month in support of the proposed Advanced Super Hornet program.
Photos from the AeroExperience blog show that the CFT shapes (neither they nor the weapons pod are functional at this stage) differ from the mock-ups shown earlier, with a deeper forward profile. In response to Navy inputs, they have been made somewhat larger, increasing the total fuel in both CFTs from 3,000 lb to 3,500 lb.
The CFTs and weapon pod are part of a package of improvements that Boeing and General Electric are proposing to the Navy. The F-35C Joint Strike Fighter faces delays and a lower sustained production rate, inevitably extending the Super Hornet's career. The Navy already has a number of fully funded classified programs for Super Hornet enhancements.