Israeli F-16 fighter jets are seen at the Nevatim air base near the southern Israeli city of Beersheva in 2010. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
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TEL AVIV — The Israel Air Force (IAF) has halted training flights of its front-line F-16I and F-15I fighters following the July 7 crash of the Pratt & Whitney-powered F-16I Sufa (Storm), apparently due to engine failure.
An item posted July 7 on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) website cited “an apparent technical failure in the engine” that forced the two-man F-16I crew to jettison the aircraft before it plunged into international waters off Israel’s southern Mediterranean coast.
Both the pilot and the weapon system officer were rescued by the IAF’s 669 unit, but the estimated US $50 million aircraft, part of a 102-aircraft acquisition first fielded a decade ago, was deemed a total loss.
As of midafternoon July 8, search-and-rescue operations had not recovered the F100-PW-229 engine powering Israel’s F-16I and F-15I fleet, sources here said.
IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel ordered the immediate grounding of the F-16I and F-15I force pending preliminary findings from an ongoing investigation, the IDF website reported.
In July 8 interviews, IAF sources here said the investigation could take months, and is likely to involve not only the Pratt & Whitney engine, but the fuel controller on the Lockheed Martin-built aircraft.
Assaf Agmon, a retired IAF brigadier general and director of the Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Studies, noted that Israel had never experienced an engine failure in the hundreds of thousands of flight hours accumulated on the F-16I.
While the investigation could extend for many months, Agmon said diagnostic testing could allow for the incremental lifting of the grounding order, with first aircraft likely to return to routine operations later this week.
Meanwhile, he stressed that the IAF would continue to use its front-line F-16I and F-15I force for operational missions as needed.
“It’s a routine and precautionary halt in training flights. But if the IAF needs to operate tomorrow in Lebanon or anywhere else, you can be sure these assets will be deployed for the mission.”