There is an ongoing shady discussion in the Netherlands about a speedy replacement of the current F-16s with spankin’ new F-35A Lightnings. Shady, because it partly revolves around the number of flying hours the F-16s clocked up so far. We crunch some numbers and find out some numbers are far more impressive than others.
Just take a quick look at this stuff, the answer of the Dutch Ministry of Defence on questions from Dutch parliament about the number of flying hours per Dutch F-16. It shows that the aircraft with registration J-637 is the champion of all, having flown 4,893 flying hours already by December 2011. That’s a lot … Until we read this, about an USAF F-16 that happily flew 7,238 hours. This is stuff we love!
Yearly, each Dutch F-16 spends 180 hours in the air – give or take a few hours – so our hero J-637 now probably has over 5,000 flying hours. The Dutch MoD claims that its Fighting Falcons are getting old and require more and more maintenance.
Sounds logical. But why then is an American F-16 of similar age – the US high-flyer was delivered in 1984, while J-637 was delivered the year before – capable of spending 7,238 hours in the air while the Dutch fighters apparently start falling apart after 4,500 hours or so. Upgrades such as Pacer SLIP and Falcon Up should have prolonged service life beyond 6,000 flying hours, and have been costing the Dutch taxpayers millions and millions of euros. A service life of 8,000 hours was even mentioned back then. Recent updates to newer US aircraft even go as far as to give 10,000 hours of life for each airframe.
The usual argument is that Dutch F-16s were used more extensively then originally planned, for example during operations over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. That’s probably true, although a lot of flying time is actually spent high up in the air, waiting for the close-air-support call or just looking for a tanker. Not exactly the most stressfull situation for any airframe. And still: the US high-flyer spent most of its years in the hands of inexperienced trainee pilots at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. That’s a lot of hard landings, bumpy rides and mishandling. And besides that, a day at the fence of Luke shows based F-16s flying around with the same heavy weaponry that supposedly stressed out the Dutch Vipers all these years. For the record, Dutch F-16 J-015 – the current demo aircraft – only has 3,500 hours or so at this moment.
The Norwegians and the Danish – not to mention the Israelis (how about their flying hours?) – are still happily flying their oldest vintage 1978 F-16s, while the Dutch put those aside more than a decade ago, stripping them for parts and throwing the remains in the bin.
The Americans know how to treat an aircraft that fulfilled its task. Their high-flyers are resting in the Arizona desert, having done their job. We will not mention that even those aircraft will return to the sky as QF-16s, clocking up even more hours, only to be finally shot to pieces as live targets. How’s that for scrapping?
© 2013 AIRheads’ Elmer van Hest