Service life of US F-16s extended to 12,000 hours

The US Air Force has authorized extending the service life of the Lockheed Martin F-16’s designed service life to 12,000 Equivalent Flight Hours — far beyond the aircraft’s original design service life of 8,000 hours.

Following F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications, the US Air Force potentially could safely operate Block 40-52 aircraft to 2048 and beyond. 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 for the next decades.

“This accomplishment is the result of more than seven years of test, development, design and analysis,” said Susan Ouzts, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 program. “Combined with F-16 avionics modernization programs 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.”

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. SLEP and related avionics upgrades to the US 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.

A second phase, or Part II, 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. Part II seeks to validate further extending the F-16’s operational life based on final service life analysis from extended durability testing.

500th Eurofighter Typhoon delivered

Fourteen years after the delivery of the very first Eurofighter Typhoon, the 500th aircraft was delivered on Tuesday 11 April. At Leonardo’s Turin facility, the Italian Air Force took delivery of the Typhoon in question.

The ceremony was witnessed by several authorities, with officials from Kuwait also among those present. Kuwait in 2016 ordered 28 Typhoons in a bilateral contract with Italy. The ceremony in Turin saw the presentation of very first part for the very first jet for Kuwait. The country will soon join the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria and Saudi Arabia as a Typhoon operator.

In Turin, Chief Executive Officer of Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH Volker Paltzo said: “The 500 strong Eurofighter Typhoon fleet represents one of the largest and most capable fighter fleets in the western hemisphere, and will be the backbone of European airpower for decades to come. Today’s handover is a great testament to the programme’s success, and I firmly expect to see the fleet grow further as our partner companies continue to pursue opportunities for more orders internationally.”

Filippo Bagnato, Leonardo Aircraft Division Managing Director, said: “We are very proud to deliver the 500th Eurofighter Typhoon produced to the Italian Air Force. The Eurofighter Typhoon is the largest collaborative industrial program in Europe, it is a successful and significant contributor to the nation’s economic wellbeing, employing high-skilled workers and generating thousands of high-value manufacturing and engineering jobs. We are now fully committed to completing deliveries to the Italian Air Force, to develop the capabilities of the aircraft, and to the activities envisaged by Kuwait’s contract, while continuing to pursue a number of significant market opportunities around the world.”

The first Eurofighter was delivered to the UK at the end of 2003. The 100th Eurofighter was delivered to the UK Royal Air Force in September 2006. The 200th aircraft was handed over to the German Air Force in November 2009. The 300th aircraft was delivered to the Spanish Air Force in October 2011, and the 400th to the German Air Force in December 2013.

The Typhoon has since been deployed on multiple occasions on air policing duties with the Spanish, German, Italian and UK air forces and has seen combat during operations in Libya, Iraq and Syria.

Costly King Stallion ready for low rate production

Lockheed Martin on Tuesday announced the CH-53K King Stallion is ready for low rate initial production. The Pentagon is looking to buy at least 200 of these heavy lift helicopters, which at a unit price of 85 million USD is almost as costly as the F-35. 

Aircraft maturity has been established with well over 400 flight hours achieved, Lockheed Martin reports. An initial Operational Assessment by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in October 2016 fully established the ability of the King Stallion to achieve critical mission flight and ground scenarios in the hands of active duty Marines.

The CH-53K King Stallion provides heavy lift capability with three times the lift of the CH-53E that it replaces.  With more than triple the payload capability and a 12-inch wider internal cabin compared to the predecessor, the King Stallion’s payload has increased significantly in size and volume. The CH-53K also offers enhanced safety features, including full authority fly-by-wire flight controls and mission management that reduce pilot workload and enable the crew to focus on mission execution.  Other features include advanced stability augmentation, flight control modes that include attitude command-velocity hold, automated approach to a stabilized hover, position hold and precision tasks in degraded visual environments, and tactile cueing that all permit the pilot to focus on the mission at hand.

Further, the CH-53K King Stallion has improved reliability and maintainability that exceeds 89 percent mission reliability with a smaller shipboard logistics footprint than the legacy CH-53E.

The US Department of Defense’s need remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft, Lockheed Martin claims. The first six of the 200 are under contract and scheduled to start delivery next year to the USMC. Two additional aircraft, the first LRIP aircraft, are under long lead procurement for parts and materials, with deliveries scheduled to start in 2020.

The Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements.

First flight for ‘Saudi’ AN-132

Antonov’s new multipurpose AN−132D took to the skies for its maiden flight last week from the company’s airfield in Kyiv, Ukraine. The new aircraft flew for 1 hour and 50 minutes in the hands of a crew from Ukraine and  Saudi Arabia. The AN−132 is being developed in cooperation with King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and the Тaqnia Aeronautics Company, both based in Saudi Arabia.

The AN−132D multipurpose turboprop aircraft is intended for operation on short and medium−haul routes. The new aircraft will perform a variety of tasks, such as the transportation bulk cargo and vehicles weighing up to 9.2 tonnes. The aircraft is also suited for para drops.

The next important step will be the presentation of the AN−132D in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which will be conducted after the completion of more aircraft tests, according to Antonov. After last week’s flight, the Center of King Abdulaziz City Science and Technology, emphasised the importance of the project to Saudi Arabia.

Aero Vodochody ready for new L-159 production

Czech company Aero Vodochody has produced is first L-159 light attack and trainer jet in 13 years, and is ready for more. The aircraft concerned is a L-159 two seater for the Iraqi Air Force. Aero Vodochody company says it will be turning its focus back on proprietary aircraft and the L-159 could become a flagship of this new approach. And perhaps even a condidate for the O-A competition in the US?

In the next ten years, there will be demand for hundreds of light attack aircraft on the market, Aero Vodochody claims, and the company wants its share.. “We know there is a relevant market and we know we have the right product. L-159 is the only aircraft in its category, that is currently on the market and it is proven in various types of missions. So now it is the right time to start offering L-159 again and giving a new future to this aircraft,” described Giuseppe Giordo, CEO of Aero Vodochody.

Giordo later added that South America is an ‘important region’ for Aero Vodochody’s marketing activities for both the L-159 and L-39NG that is currently being developed. Also, Giordo seems to hint at the O-A competition in the US, which seeks a new light attack jet for the US Air Force.

During the last decade, the Czechs  primarily competed in the international market in upgrading, maintaining, repairing, overhauling of existing aircraft and collaborated with others on several projects.

Those collaborations allowed Aero Vodochody to maintain key capabilities, which the company days was recently was demonstrated in the production of the L-159 for Iraq, plus the installation of a brand new wing production facility.

L-159 aircraft is operated by four customers – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iraqi and US defense firm Draken International. Czech Army has the largest fleet and the aircraft in its service are serving in various missions around Europe and they are also actively participating on NATO exercises. In 2008-2010, Hungary Air Force leased L-159 for pilot training, it was the first deployment of the aircraft by international customer.

In 2014, Aero and Czech Ministry of Defence managed to sell some former Czech jets to Iraq and Draken International.