The UK has begun investigating the feasibility of extending the Eurofighter Typhoon's fatigue life beyond its nominal 6,000 flying hour limit. The move would prolong the availability of the Royal Air Force's early-build aircraft and extend the type's designated out-of-service date beyond 2030.
"We expect it almost certainly to go beyond 2030," says RAF Gp Capt Tony Innes, deputy head theatre airspace capability - air defence. The fatigue life of the RAF's upgraded Panavia Tornado GR4s is 33% higher, at 8,000 flying hours.
The UK Ministry of Defence's Typhoon integrated project team leader, Air Cdre Chris Bushell, says: "We're pushing [the Typhoon's] fatigue life out, and there's a process back to the fatigue test specimen, which we have in the UK.
"It depends where we go on future fast jet numbers, and how we use the aircraft operationally," he adds. "It's something we're constantly reviewing. It's quite complex because we've got a number of different aircraft here at different stages of capability growth and what we're trying to do is eke out all that fatigue life."
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The RAF currently has 49 Tranche 1 Typhoons
The UK has accumulated by far the highest number of flying hours with the Eurofighter, compared with partner nations Germany, Italy and Spain. Although the RAF has the largest fleet, it is also achieving a utilisation rate around double that of the other air forces.
"We are looking at about 30h per month on average for each of our airframes at the frontline, whereas the other nations fly at a maximum of about 15h per month per aircraft," says Bushell. He adds that despite this, "the UK has ordered the least amount of spares".
According to MoD figures, the RAF had reached nearly 25,000 flying hours by the end of 2008, compared with 10,000 or fewer for each of the other three nations. The UK had ordered fewer than 35,000 lines of spares as of February 2009, against just over 50,000 for Germany, almost 45,000 for Italy and around 37,000 for Spain.
The RAF has two operational Typhoon squadrons, plus two training and operational evaluation units based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. These are equipped with a combined 49 Tranche 1 and seven Tranche 2 Eurofighters. A further three squadrons will be based at RAF Leuchars in Scotland, with these to stand up between October 2010 and October 2012.
RAF Typhoons will make their deployed operational debut later this year, when the type will replace the Tornado F3 in providing air defence services for the Falkland Islands.