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F-16s sustain ash damage from Iceland eruption

April 19, 2010 (by Asif Shamim) - NATO officials will not fully confirm a report that several F-16s were damaged by the volcanic ash released from Iceland's, Mount Eyjafjallajökull eruption on April 14, which has caused widespread disruption to air travel across most of Europe.

Reports indicate that a Belgian F-16 similar to this example sustained ash damage to the engine.

A source at NATO would only confirm that the comments had come from a US diplomat, but did not know which of the nations had been affected.

However an official with the European Air Traffic Agency was later to have said that an F-16 from the Belgian Air Force had sustained damage.

F-16s from several member states are in Europe participating in exercises. Turkish jets are at Laage, Germany participating in 'Brilliant Ardent'. Dutch, Norwegian and Polish units are at Leeurwarden, The Netherlands participating in 'Frisian Flag'.

The volcanic ash consists of tiny particles of rock and glass as fine as talcum powder, which under extreme heat fuses onto the blades of an engine, causing imbalances or damaging delicate rotating machine parts, eventual resulting in engine failure.

The best example of complete engine failure caused by ash was on June 24, 1982, when a British Airways 747, heading from London to Melbourne, Australia flew through the volcanic ash cloud released by Mount Galunggung, South-east of Jakarta, Indonesia. Fortunately this flight was able to glide clear of the ash cloud and was then able to restart all engines before successfully landing at Jakarta airport.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday that the ash cloud was not affecting the alliance's military readiness, although he declined to comment on specific missions.

"Our air forces will always take the necessary steps to ensure they are capable to conduct their operations. They have taken the necessary steps and they will take the necessary steps to ensure our territorial defence is secure," he said.