After almost a quarter of a century's experience with two flying prototypes, operational experience with four versions of the F/A-18, and two years of flight testing, the Navy may be on the brink of getting a flawed Super Hornet. In the words of the flight-test director, the F/A-18E has compromised its operational effectiveness: One of its wings loses lift at critical regions of the flight envelope and drops. The phenomenon has become known as the "wing-drop" problem. The problem is unresolved, and the Navy appears on the verge of accepting an aircraft that has less performance than the original 1975 F/A-18A specification at three times the development cost and twice the procurement cost.
The problem is complicated by the aircraft's congressionally mandated budget ceiling. The program was funded on the assumption that there would be no speed bumps during its flight-test phase, but the wing-drop and engine-development problems threaten to breach the ceiling.