Temporary grounding of the Belgian Defence F-16 fleet
On February 11, at Florennes Air Base, an F-16 had engine problems on takeoff and landed immediately, as a precaution. The investigation shows that several engines are likely to have the same problem. Therefore, all F-16 engines must be checked and the fleet grounded while awaiting results.
Following the advice of the engine manufacturer (Pratt & Whitney) and the aircraft manufacturer (General Dynamics, now Lockheed Martin), it was decided to take immediate corrective action and ground the remaining aircraft in order to carry out checks as quickly as possible. Belgian Defence attaches great importance to the safety of the population and the crew and does not want to take any unnecessary risks.
In the context of an air incident, the Defence Aviation Safety Directorate is conducting an in-flight safety investigation. During takeoff, the F-16 from Florence was confronted with a nozzle burn. This is a phenomenon in which a break in material causes, due to the high temperature, a number of parts to melt which then can come loose. The affected aircraft engine was dismantled and sent to Patria BEC for maintenance.
During the investigation, investigators noticed a problem with the hinge pin. A thorough check of the entire fleet shows that a significant number of engines exhibit similar phenomena.
Along with the investigation, all participating European Air Force partners and manufacturers were informed. Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force have indicated, based on this information, that corrective action should be taken immediately on the affected engines.
Repair time is estimated at 5 working days per engine. There is, however, a shortage of spare parts on the market.
The “Quick Reaction Alert” system over Belgian and Dutch airspace will remain operational after the inspection. Belgian Defence is taking the necessary steps to provide the F-16s in operation with the necessary replacement engines. Whether other countries are experiencing the same problem is currently under investigation.