Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thunderbolts, grounded by Hill, on the mend

Temporary fix keeps jets flying over Iraq, Afghanistan; long-term solution in the works

By Matthew D. LaPlante
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Launched: 10/27/2008 10:54:59 AM MDT

Nearly one month after the Air Force grounded scores of jets favored by the military for protecting U.S. ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, engineers at Hill Air Force Base say they have "a way ahead" for getting the A-10 Thunderbolt back into service.

For now, the temporary inspection and maintenance regimen ordered by Hill's A-10 System Program Office will keep all but three jets in combat zone service. A permanent fix to the problem - fractures in the wings of many aircraft discovered during routine maintenance at Hill - is in the works, according to base officials.

Engineers at Hill "have been working diligently to develop and validate more comprehensive repairs," said base spokesman Charles Freeman.

Nearly 150 A-10 Thunderbolts were immediately grounded as a result of the Hill alert. Almost all showed signs of cracking, but the temporary fix, which takes about 45 man-hours per jet, has returned about one-third of the grounded jets to service.

At least 200 of the jets, popularly known as the "Warthog," await inspection.

A small number, including the four which received a one-time flight authorization from Afghanistan to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, will need more extensive repairs.

Those fixes may take as long as two months.

Lt. Gen. Gary North, Combined Forces Air Component commander for U.S. Central Command, said NATO forces would use "other assets in theater to meet mission requirements" while waiting for four replacement aircraft.

Air Force officials said that military members on the ground would not notice a difference, however. Weekly airpower summaries issued by the Air Force since Oct. 11 show A-10s have been used in several close-air missions recently.

There have been no crashes involving the aircraft, but the presence of cracks in the wings, similar to a maintenance problem discovered on many of the Air Force's F-15 fighter jets last year, concerned Air Force officials enough to order the grounding of a large portion of the fleet for inspection. If the problem had gone undetected, military aviation experts said, it had the potential to cause wings to fall off.


Note: This news article was first-published with the headline HAFB gets 'Warthogs' back in battle on October 25, 2008.

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