The current US Air Force fleet, whose planes are more than 23 years old on average, is the oldest in USAF history. It wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t keep that title for very long. Many transport aircraft and aerial refueling tankers are more than 40 years old Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and under current plans, some may be as many as 70-80 years old before they retire. Since the price for next-generation planes has risen faster than inflation, average aircraft age will climb even if the US military gets every plane it asks for in its future plans. Nor is the USA the only country facing this problem.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The B-52H with tail number LA1023 was built in 1961Ã¢â‚¬Â¦. It is the first of 18 B-52Hs selected by Air Combat Command to retire. Every two weeks a B-52H will be retired, alternating between here and the 2nd BW in an effort to maximize funding for the aging assets. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is easier and cheaper to modify and maintain 76 planes, than to keep all 94 up and running,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Master Sgt. Curtis Jensen, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent.Ã¢â‚¬Â
TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re talking about aircraft that canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fly but must be kept per Congressional directives, which includes a number of C-130E Hercules and KC-135E Stratotankers. Ã¢â‚¬Å“One C-130E Hercules from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is so old and in such bad shape it cannot safely fly. Yet U.S. Air Force maintainers must tow it around the tarmac every so often to make sure its tires donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go flat, and crank up the engines every month to make sure they still runÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. More than 20 percent of the serviceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s C-130Es are grounded or have significant flight restrictionsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne], speaking at a Washington think tank Sept. 19, said that the serviceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stay-within-its-topline bootstrap approach isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t arresting the aging aircraft problem, and the inventory age is still rising, from 23.9 years today to 26.5 years by 2012. The Air ForceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s older fighters arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t up to defeating a modern air defense system or modern foreign fighters, Wynne saidÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â
Most serous: flaws relating to aging aircraft can pop up without warning, as they did with an F-15C Eagle in a fatal 2007 crash. When they do, whole fleets of that type can be grounded until the problem is identified and fixed.