Warplanes: How Long Can A Fighter Fly?


November 23,2008: Earlier this year, a U.S. F-16 of the Vermont Air National Guard (VANG) set a record on March 24th, when it became the first F-16C to spend 7,000 hours in the air. Now that aircraft, with over 7,200 hours in the air, is being retired. Not to the scrap heap, but as an exhibition at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC. This F-16 will probably hold the record, for hours in the air for an F-16, forever. That's because the U.S. Air Force is retiring its older aircraft, to save billions in maintenance costs. Smart bombs mean fewer aircraft are needed to provide ground support for the troops. And new F-22 and F-35s are arriving to take care of air combat, and ground support.

The F-16C was originally designed for a service life of 4,000 hours in the air. But advances in engineering, materials and maintenance techniques have extended that to over 8,000 hours. The National Guard maintainers tend to be older and more experienced, and are noted for their innovative and diligent methods of keeping old aircraft flying.

Western warplanes are built to a high standard, and capable of being updated and used for a long time (in terms of years and flight hours). Such is not the case with Russian designs. While there are still thousands of MiG-21 fighters in service, and some of them are over twenty years old, few of them have more than 2,000 flight hours on them.

The VANG aircraft, nicknamed "Lucky Lady", has had the same pilot for the last ten years, and has been to Iraq three times, where it flew 1,100 combat hours. Lucky Lady has more than two decades of service. The VANG is getting some more recent F-16s as replacements. The 19 ton F-16 entered service 30 years ago, and over 4,200 have been produced, for use in 25 different countries. The aircraft is still in production, but will eventually be replaced in U.S. service by the F-35.



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