I fell in love with the US Navy’s F-14 Tomcat when I was quite young. My family started watching the TV show JAG and the pilot episode featured, of all things, female fighter pilots.
I was hooked. My favorite episodes were the ones that focused on the jets. Significantly smaller than the airliners I had traveled on, there was still an immensity to the Tomcats, a sense of raw power and destruction. I was determined that one day I would fly them.
Of course that didn’t happen. A twelve-year-old girl in Australia who was afraid to go on the roller coaster at Dream World was not going to get to fly F-14s for the US Navy.
Sadly (for me at least!), the US retired the F-14 Tomcat in 2006. It was replaced by the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the plane that Talia (aka Colt) flies with her best friend Hawk.
The Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets are a redesign of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. It soon became earmarked as a replacement for the aging F-14s. The Super Hornet lacks the variable position wings of the Tomcat (one of my favorite features), instead needing to fold its wings up for carrier storage. Depending on the model, the Super Hornet is nearly twenty feet shorter than the Tomcat, and is significantly slower (1190 mph vs the 1544 mph of the Tomcat). Despite all this, the Super Hornet is the more agile aircraft and would most likely win a dogfight between the two.
The Super Hornet is able to be flown by the pilot alone. The upgraded computer systems mean the Radar Intercept Officer is no longer needed, as they were in the Tomcat to operate the radar and monitor communications and navigation. However, there is still a two-seater version – the F/A-18F. In that model, the aft-seat is occupied by a Weapons Systems Officer who is in charge of manning the weapons systems in order to find the correct target and arm the appropriate weapon.
Because their roles are so reliant upon the other, the pilot and the WSO need to trust each other and know what the other is thinking. That bond is one of my favorite things about Colt and Hawk’s relationship to write.
If you want to learn more about fighter pilots, the Fighter Pilot Podcast has answers for all the questions you’ve ever wondered regarding what it’s like to be a fighter pilot.