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Ultrasound keeps Israeli fighter jets safe

Air force technician applies baby-viewing technology to detect cracks in F-16 wings

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: An Israel Air Force F-16 takes off. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israel Air Force F-16 takes off. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

An Israeli Air Force technician has come up with a novel way to keep aging fighter jets flying: using a baby-viewing ultrasound device to look for cracks in their frames.

Several months ago Lockheed-Martin, which manufactures F-16 fighter jets, alerted air forces around the world that its initial estimates of 9,000 hours of trouble-free flying may have been a little too optimistic, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Thursday.

Specifically, cracks were found at the wing base in F-16C and F-16D versions after just 7,000 hours of air time. If not repaired, the cracks could worsen and eventually compromise the airworthiness of the jet or even cause it to crash.

As a precaution, Lockheed-Martin instructed users to ground their planes and carry out comprehensive checks to find any problems.

Israel purchased a total of 75 planes of both types. Although nearly 30 years old, the jets have been upgraded with modern avionics to keep them in the skies and are still a valuable part of Israel’s air array.

The manufacturer’s recommended method for searching for the hidden fissures required taking each jet apart, a labor-intensive task that would have taken months to complete. For the IAF, grounding dozens of jets for such an extended period would have significantly impacted operations.

After the IAF’s Aerial Maintenance Unit took up the challenge of reviewing the jets, one noncommissioned officer, identified only as Meir, came up with a novel solution — smearing the planes with gel and using an ultrasound machine to take a look inside.

The method enables a much quicker assessment of each plane and, as a result, a greatly reduced turnaround time before they can take off again, avoiding what could have been a major headache for the force.

The air force was close to completing checks on its inventory of the jets, the report said.

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