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How to cruise efficiently in the F18 with a full combat loadout?


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Hi all, quick question about cruising in the F/A-18. When I fly air to air PVP, I generally load out with 2 fuel tanks, 6 AIM120s and 2 AIM9s. 

 

With this loadout, what is the best altitude and speed to cruise at? I would like to arrive in the combat zone with an altitude advantage, if possible, for BVR engagements, but if I try to cruise at anything above around 35k feet, I find myself needing to use the afterburner to stay in level flight... Even at full mil power, I lose speed and the nose slowly pitches up. 

 

Is this just a limitation of the Hornet or am I doing something wrong? How do you guys like to cruise long distance without wasting fuel on the afterburner and staying as fast and high as possible upon your arrival to the AO? 

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