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US Air Force authorises service life extension of F-16 fighter

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An F-16 undergoes durability testing in Lockheed Martin's Full Scale Durability Test facility in Fort Worth, Texas. A Lockheed photo

FORT WORTH, TEXAS (BNS): The US Air Force (USAF) has authorised a service life extension of the Lockheed Martin-built F-16 fighter aircraft fleet by up to 4,000 flight hours more in order to keep them operational till 2048 and even beyond. 

Following the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications, the service life of the Block 40 to 52 fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon jets would go up to 12,000 flight hours – far beyond their originally designed service life of 8,000 hours.

"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," said Susan Ouzts, vice president of Lockheed Martin's F-16 programme.

"Combined with F-16 avionics modernization programmes like the F-16V, SLEP modifications demonstrate that the Fighting Falcon remains a highly capable and affordable 4th Generation option for the US Air Force and international F-16 customers," the official said.

The Air Force and Lockheed Martin also reduced projected service life costs for the Block 40-52 fleet, paving the way for safe, cost-effective F-16 flight operations decades into the future, Lockheed said in a statement on April 12.

Validation of the extended flight hour limit directly supports the SLEP goal of extending the service life of up to 300 F-16C/D Block 40-52 aircraft, the statement said.

SLEP and related avionics upgrades to the Air Force's F-16C/D fleet can safely and effectively augment the current fighter force structure as US and allied combat air fleets recapitalize with F-35 Lightning IIs, it added.

A second phase of the F-16 SLEP airworthiness process continues with the request for Military Type Certificate (MTC), which will be submitted to the Air Force's Technical Airworthiness Authority in the coming months, Lockheed said.

The second phase seeks to validate further extending the F-16's operational life based on final service life analysis from extended durability testing.

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