The US Air Force (USAF) has temporarily grounded 82 of its F-16D Fighting Falcon aircraft following the discovery of longeron cracks between the aircraft’s front and rear pilot seats.

The USAF has ordered an inspection of all two-seat F-16Ds after it found initial structural cracks on the planes during routine post-mission flight inspections.

A total of 157 F-16Ds were inspected by air force officials as part of an immediate action time compliance technical order (TCTO) to help ensure the structural integrity of the aircraft and pilot safety.

The officials discovered cracks on 82 aircraft, while the remaining 75 fighters were found to be normal and have been returned to flight status.

The inspection also confirmed that other F-16 variants remain unaffected.

USAF Weapon System Division deputy chief lieutenant colonel Steve Grotjohn said: "As aircraft accumulate flight hours, cracks develop due to fatigue from sustained operations.

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"Fortunately, we have a robust maintenance, inspection and structural integrity programme to discover and repair deficiencies as they occur."

"We have a robust maintenance, inspection and structural integrity programme to discover and repair deficiencies as they occur."

Meanwhile, the Air Force F-16 Systems Program Office and F-16 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin’s engineers are analysing the aircraft structure and developing repair procedures to enable aircraft with cracks to resume limited flights, while analysis continues for a permanent solution.

The USAF is working with its F-16D operational units to lessen the impact of grounding on operations, training and readiness.

The two-seat variant of the F-16 fighter, the F-16D fleet is primarily used by USAF for personnel training, and is on average 24 years old logging more than 5,500 hours of flight time.

A total of 969 F-16s of all variants are currently operational with USAF.

The F-16 is a multirole jet fighter, designed initially as an air superiority day fighter, but later evolved into a successful all-weather multirole aircraft for accurate delivery of ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.

Image: A USAF F-16D aircraft takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, US. Photo: courtesy of Nasa / Tom Tschida.

Defence Technology