Support: December 29, 2003

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Combat aircraft are becoming more reliable, even as they become more complex. For example, fifty years ago, the F-89 fighter had 383 accidents per 100,000 flying hours. Today, the F-15 has one accident every 200,000 flying hours. One result of this trend was the recent decision by the U.S. Air Force to extend from 300 to 400 hours the flying time before it's F-16Cs have to be partially disassembled and thoroughly inspected for any maintenance problems. The oldest F-16Cs entered service in the mid 1980s. This new policy saves the air force a lot of time and money. These "single-phase inspections" require a lot of hanger space and maintenance personnel. Combat aircraft have gotten more reliable and easier to maintain, despite growing complexity, for the same reason automobiles have. Better engineering, and more sensors built into equipment, makes it easier for the user and maintenance personnel to detect potential problems. Aircraft used the computerized maintenance systems, currently common on new aircraft, long before automobiles got them. Unless you have a much older car that still runs, or a real good memory, you don't notice the enormous increase in automobile reliability. But older pilots remember, because such changes are a matter of life and death if you make your living driving an aircraft. And commanders know that safer aircraft give them more aircraft to use in combat, and more aircraft that can survive combat damage and keep fighting.

 


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