Lockheed Martin announced on 12 April that the US Air Force (USAF) has authorised extension of the F-16 design service life to 12,000 equivalent flight hours – a 50% increase on the original 8,000 hour design life.
Following F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications, USAF Block 40-52 aircraft could safely be operated to 2048 and beyond. The service and Lockheed Martin have 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.
“This accomplishment is the result of more than seven years of test, development, design, analysis and partnership between the USAF and Lockheed Martin,“ Susan Ouzts, Vice President of Lockheed Martin's F-16 programme, stated. “Combined with F-16 avionics modernisation 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.“
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 USAF F-16C/D fleet can safely and effectively augment the current fighter force structure as US and allied combat air fleets recapitalise 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.