Fatigue cracks force fleet-wide F/A-18 inspections

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The US Navy has issued a safety bulletin requiring inspections for all 636 F/A-18A-Ds within the next 15 hours after discovering fatigue cracks on outboard aileron hinges.

The safety issue comes as the navy seeks to extend the life of its oldest fighters to limit the impact of a projected strike aircraft shortfall across the next decade.

USN officials issued the bulletin after finding cracks in the aluminium outer wing components of 15 F/A-18s, a USN spokesman said.

All of the inspections are expected to take place over the next two weeks, he added.

Aircraft that fail the inspection must be grounded until the cracked hinges can be replaced. Some repairs can be made in the field, but replacing the hinge requires a trip to a depot.

An inflight failure of the aileron hinge could lead to loss of control of the aircraft.

The USN has already extended the life of the F/A-18A-D fleet from 6,000 flight hours to 8,000 flight hours, with the oldest aircraft now approaching 7,500 flight hours.

The USN is now seeking to make structural improvements to keep the fleet in service for 10,000 flight hours.

Even if the second life extension programme is successful, the USN is projecting a fighter shortfall to reach a peak of 69 aircraft by 2017.