Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wings for Warthogs / Air Force grounds A-10s after cracks found in wings of older models

Lt. Col. Jeremy "Java" Horn, directo
r of operations for the 514th Flight Test Squadron, explains cracks found in the wings of some A-10 Thunderbolt IIs at Hill Air Force Base on Monday. (Photo by Erin Hooley/Standard-Examiner)


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- The Air Force has called for a mass grounding and inspection of 128 A-10 Warthogs after maintenance crews at Hill recently discovered cracks in older models of the plane.

Immediate inspections of the A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, commonly referred to as the Warthog, were called for on Friday after fatigue cracking was discovered on the wings of some A and C models of the aging ground-support aircraft.

Lt. Col. Jeremy "Java" Horn, director of operations of the 514th Flight Test Squadron at Hill, said the cracks in the A-10s were detected before any significant structural damage was done to the plane.

"We caught them early enough to make the necessary repairs before anything catastrophic happened," he said. "Hats off to the engineers and maintainers."

Horn, who is a veteran A-10 pilot, said at any given time, there are 30 to 40 A-10s receiving maintenance work at Hill.

"Only about two are flyable when they're here. The rest are in heavy maintenance."

The Air Force's fleet of A-10s will likely have to last another 22 years, making the plane viable until 2030 and surpassing 50 years of military service.

"It's not without precedent to take an older plane and keep it viable in today's battlefield," Horn said.

The first A-10s began service in 1975; today, the Air Force's fleet exceeds 400 with an average age of 28 years.

"This risk (of the cracks) is of great concern to the Air Force and is representative of a systemic problem for our aging Air Force fleet," the Air Force said in a news release.

The planes in which the cracks are being found were built before 1980 and were equipped with "thin-skin" wings. There are 244 thin-skin A-10s in the Air Force fleet, which will all eventually require permanent repairs or replacement of wings once new wings are delivered in 2011.

Most inspections will be conducted where the A-10s are currently based.

George F. Jozens, director of public affairs for the 75th Air Base Wing, said it will take up to five days to prepare the aircraft, inspect the affected areas, perform the repairs and reassemble the aircraft.

That work can be performed by field units where the A-10s are stationed. However, some aircraft may have cracks that can be repaired only at a maintenance depot.

"Field units have the necessary skills to make the field level-approved repair," Jozens said. "If a depot-level repair is required, depot maintenance personnel have the required skills."

Those repairs will take approximately 52 days.

Depot-level repairs will be performed at Hill, the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., and Korean Air Lines, the contract depot partner supportingA-10s assigned to the Pacific Air Forces, he said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who has long pushed legislation to help the Air Force buy more jets, said the recent grounding furthers his claim that the Air Force needs to update its aging fleet.

"Hopefully, this development will help us continue to make the case in Congress for increased funding for our military aircraft," he said in the news release.

"I've said before that for too long we've taken our air superiority for granted -- we're still playing catch-up from cuts in defense spending years ago that were way too deep.

"We've got to invest more. We shouldn't gamble with the future security of our country or the safety of our military personnel."

The A-10s' strong airframe can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles up to 23 mm.

The aircraft has mechanical and flight systems, with mechanical systems that allow pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power or part of a wing is lost.

"They were built to be beefy and go into very austere locations," Horn said, "and that's one of the things that has kept this plane flying and will keep it flying well into the future."

Davis editor Shauna Lund contributed to this article.


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