TEL AVIV — The Israel Air Force (IAF) has resumed F-15I and F-16I training flights after initial findings from a still-ongoing investigation appear to have ruled out the need for a fleet fix to the Pratt & Whitney engines powering the nation’s frontline fighter force.
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer described the July 7 crash of the F100-PW-229-powered F-16I as “an extreme freak occurrence” that did not warrant continued grounding of the service’s F-16I and F-15I fighters.
In a Sept. 18 interview, the officer emphasized that the investigation has not yet concluded. But after extensive diagnostics of the engine recovered from deep waters some 40 miles off Israel’s southern coast and debriefings of the two-man flight crew, ground technicians and flight controllers involved in the crash, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, IAF commander, decided to lift his July 7 grounding order.
“We still don’t know the precise cause of the crash,” the IDF officer said. “But the fact that these aircraft have returned to routine training operations indicates that the engine itself doesn’t seem to be the cause of anything that could jeopardize safety of flight for the rest of the force.”
A brigadier general in the IAF reserves said experts from the Air Staff and US-based Pratt & Whitney have been cooperating closely over more than two months in the ongoing investigation.
“They’ve had teams here; we’ve sent people there. But until we have conclusions, we won’t know if it was human error, a technical glitch or a combination of factors,” said the reserve officer, an F-16 command pilot.
In a Sept. 18. Interview, the officer said remedial action may ultimately involve “tweaking” of the software for the engine’s digital fuel controller along with slight revisions “at certain points in the flight envelope.” He declined to elaborate.
“We are supporting the IAF investigation to determine the root cause, and will continue to support the IAF as they return to flight operations,” Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said.
A Sept. 16 item posted on the IDF website quoted a Capt. Dor, commander of an F-16I squadron at Ramon Air Base, as saying his airmen have already returned to complex training flights — including aerial refueling — after an initial period of basic air-to-air drills.
“Return to flight happens in stages,” the IDF website quoted another officer, also a captain from Ramon Air Base, as saying. After more than two months on the ground, the officer said the Air Force was gradually renewing its training program for all aircrews, both active duty and reservists.
In an account of the July 7 crash, Israel Air Force Magazine reported that the two-man F-16I crew called in an engine stall about 25 minutes into a routine training flight. After failing to reignite the engine, the airmen “decided to follow protocol and abandon the aircraft over the water.”
After an hour, the airmen were evacuated by the service’s 669 Search and Rescue forces and treated for light injuries, according to the IAF account.
EDT Offshore, a Cyprus-based vessel operation and management firm, was contracted by the IAF to retrieve the engine from 500 meter-deep waters off Israel’s southern Mediterranean coast.