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Luke officials ground F-16s

July 3, 2003 (by Bota99) - A mechanical problem uncovered in the investigation of an F-16 crash last month near Gila Bend has forced the Air Force to ground an unspecified number of F-16s, including some used in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Korea and Bosnia.
The investigators found a fleet-wide engine-related problem and therefore the F-16s will be grounded until all aircraft with this type of engine have replacement parts installed, according to Luke commander, Col. Philip Breedlove.

Citing national security, he declined to say how many jets in all were grounded or what portion of the entire fleet they represented but sources said two-thirds of Luke Air Force Base's planes are currently grounded.

There are four engine types in the F-16s, and the mechanical problem is specific to one type. The Air Force said a preliminary analysis shows a potential for engine blade failure in those engines.

Combat-ready F-16s affected by the problem will undergo repairs first.

Luke graduates about 800 pilots and 1,000 crew chiefs a year but the base is making sure that student pilots who need the flying time the most fly the remaining F-16 fighters. The grounded jets will be put back in service as they're repaired.

If mechanics work in two shifts, it takes about 10 days to tear down, inspect, repair, rebuild and re-inspect an F-16 engine. But mechanics will ultimately be limited by the availability of parts.

On June 10, Capt. David O'Malley, an instructor pilot flying out of Luke with the 310th Fighter Squadron, safely ejected when his F-16 crashed about 15 miles south of Gila Bend.

Breedlove said O'Malley was not to blame for the crash.

A second Luke F-16 crash three days later was not connected to the faulty engine part, he said.

Luke is no stranger to crashes due to mechanical parts. The last two crashes were the 13th and 14th crashes in the past 4 1/2 years.

Luke had a string of nine crashes within 20 months, which led to the base increasing inspections and retrofitting engines in the aging jet fighters. Those actions significantly reduced the number of crashes.