The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) is planning a three-year study to define the remaining fatigue life of its 14 McDonnell Douglas A-4Ks and five T/A-4K two-seat trainers.

A contractor has been selected following a tendering process, but will not be named until the outcome of a wide-ranging in-house defence assessment by the New Zealand Defence Department has been presented in Parliament. That study is expected to include the possible eventual upgrading of the role performed by the existing Skyhawk fleet.

The RNZAF says: "The Skyhawk is a difficult type for us to assess, because of the modifications we did under Project Kahu, an extensive avionics upgrade. That project added some weapons-system-delivery capability to the aircraft, but also considerably increased the weight in the nose section and the load distribution, while also enabling the aircraft to be used more aggressively than it had been. We have an unknown in terms of what's happening to the structure, therefore."

The RNZAF is not confident that manufacturers' data will be relevant, although it says that the study is likely to draw on US Navy experience to an extent. "Even this is only of limited use to us, because our use of the aircraft is quite different from the way most other people use it. This is related to the fatigue consumption," it says.

Source: Flight International