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Belgium grounds F-16 fleet over engine issues

F-26 Belgian Air Force
Photo: Belgium defense ministry

The Belgian Air Force has decided to ground its fleet of F-16 fighter aircraft following an incident in February when an F-16 experienced engine issues immediately after take off.

Following the February 11 breakdown at Florennes air base, the service carried out an investigation that showed that other engines are likely to present the same problem.

This is why all the F-16 engines must be checked and the fleet immobilized while awaiting results, the Belgian defense ministry said. It added that the decision was taken with advice from the engine and aircraft manufacturers.

In the context of an air incident, the Defense Aviation Safety Directorate is conducting an in-flight safety investigation. During takeoff, the F-16 experienced a nozzle burn. This is a phenomenon in which a break in material causes, due to the high temperature, a number of parts to melt, and potentially become loose.

During an investigation of the engine, investigators noticed a problem with the hinge pin. A thorough check of the entire fleet showed that a significant number of engines exhibit similar phenomena.

In parallel with the investigation, all the partners of the participating European air forces and the manufacturers were informed.

Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force have indicated, based on this information, that corrective action should be taken immediately on the affected engines.

The defense ministry said the repair time was estimated at five working days per engine, but it noted that there was currently a shortage of spare parts on the market.

Investigations are currently underway to determine whether other countries operating the F-16 will have to ground their fighters due to the same problem. In addition to Belgium, other European operators of the F-16 include the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway.