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U.S. Navy and Boeing officials were quick to respond to a Boston Globe story May 17 that alleged "costly flaws" in Super Hornet strike fighters could cut their lifetime flight hours in half.
"The Boston Globe article has many misstatements," said Patricia Frost, a spokeswoman for Boeing Naval Systems in St. Louis. "Boeing and the U.S. Navy expect the Super Hornet and the EA-18G to meet or exceed their 6,000-hour design life."
The Globe story reported that "a mechanism inside the wings of the F/A-18 [E and F] Super Hornet ? is wearing out prematurely" — a problem that, if uncorrected, "would drastically shorten the $50 million aircraft's life span from 6,000 hours to 3,000 hours."
Boeing and the Navy acknowledged that problems have been found with the aircraft, but said the situation described in the Globe story dates from four years ago. Fixes already have been incorporated into new aircraft and will be retrofitted into older planes, Boeing and the Navy said.
"The U.S. Navy has identified a pylon fitting in the wing of the F/A-18 E and F model Super Hornet where fatigue could potentially shorten the wing's expected service life and is implementing a corrective measure," said Chuck Wagner, a spokesman with Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md. "The fitting is part of the lower wing spar and is used to reinforce the area where stores attach to the wing. The potential problem was identified through an engineering analysis in 2003 and subsequent testing in 2005, which are part of our routine risk-mitigation processes for the aircraft's development. The Navy and Boeing worked together, a fully-funded project is underway, and today every aircraft coming off the production line is being delivered with the solution that corrects for the potential future fatigue. A retrofit solution on those aircraft already in the fleet is planned for 2009 and will correct the identified wing area prior to those aircraft reaching the flight-hour threshold in which fatigue could potentially be experienced. The Navy is confident it has selected the optimal proactive response which in no way compromises the readiness or performance of the aircraft's mission."
Asked whether the situation affected new EA-18G Growler electronic countermeasures aircraft — which are all converted on the production line from two-seat F models — Wagner said the problem did "not influence them at all, because the solution is already incorporated into aircraft coming off the production line. The solutions were incorporated before the first G was delivered."
Fixes and modifications to aircraft in series production are not unusual, Frost said.
"They're part of the normal life of an aircraft," she said. "If something comes up you go out and fix it in a timely fashion before it becomes a serious issue."