The US Air Force (USAF) has authorised Lockheed Martin to extend the service life of the F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft as part of a wider service-life extension programme (SLEP) of its Block 40 to 52 fleet.
The authorisation, which was announced by the manufacturer on 12 April, comes after static fatigue testing and will see the airframe cleared to 12,000 hours from its current 8,000 hours (an increase equivalent to about eight years of operational flying).
"This accomplishment is the result of more than seven years of test, development, design, analysis, and partnership between the US Air Force and Lockheed Martin," the vice-president of Lockheed Martin's F-16 programme, Susan Ouzts, was quoted as saying.
The USAF issued a request for information (RFI) on an F-16 SLEP effort in January 2016, as it sought to determine the level of industry support for a SLEP for up to 300 of the service's 1,017 Block 40/42 and 50/52 C- and D-model aircraft to see them out to 2048 and beyond.
As noted by Lockheed Martin, a second phase (Part II) of the F-16 SLEP airworthiness process continues with the request for Military Type Certificate (MTC), which will be submitted to the USAF's Technical Airworthiness Authority in the coming months. Part II seeks to validate further extending the F-16's operational life based on final service life analysis from extended durability testing.
A SLEP contract award is expected in the third quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2018, with low-rate initial production of the kits beginning at the same time. Full-rate kit production will start in the fourth quarter of FY 2019, with installation beginning in the fourth quarter of FY 2020 and running through to the end of FY 2021. While the SLEP is geared chiefly at increasing the F-16's service life, the fleet is also receiving new ground collision avoidance systems (some 26% of F-16 aircraft losses and 75% of F-16-related fatalities are caused by 'controlled flight into terrain'), and 136 aircraft are slated for a wing overhaul programme.
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