UPDATE 1-US Navy finds wing problem in top Boeing fighter

Fri May 18, 2007 9:22am EDT

WASHINGTON May 18 (Reuters) - Boeing Co.'s (BA.N)F/A 18 Super Hornet, the company's top fighter jet, has a pylon-fitting problem in its wing that could potentially shorten the wing's expected life, the U.S. Navy said Friday.

The Navy said in a statement a retrofit on aircraft already in the fleet was planned for 2009 and would fix the issue before reaching "the flight-hour threshold in which fatigue could potentially be experienced."

The Super Hornet E and F models at issue are in production for the U.S. Navy. Boeing's chief subcontractors on the aircraft are Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC.N), Raytheon Co. (RTN.N) and General Electric (GE.N), which supplies the engines.

A Boeing spokeswoman for the project did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The public disclosure of the problem in the wings has emerged when the Navy is planning to buy more Super Hornets to tide over any delay in delivery of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s (LMT.N) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's next-generation fighter now being flight-tested.

The problem was identified through an engineering analysis in 2003 and testing in 2005, part of routine risk-mitigation, said Chuck Wagner, a spokesman for the F/A 18 program at Patuxent River Naval Station, Maryland.

The pylon fitting is part of the lower wing spar and is used to reinforce the area where stores attach to the wing, the Navy said.

With the Navy and Boeing working together, "every aircraft coming off the production line is being delivered with the solution that corrects for the potential future fatigue," he said.

"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," Wagner added.

The Boston Globe, which reported the problem first, said the problem, if uncorrected, would halve the $50 million aircraft's life span from 6,000 flight hours to 3,000 hours.

The newspaper, citing an unidentified Navy official, said at least 193 planes now in service will be retrofitted.

Australia recently signed a $2.4 billion deal to purchase 24 Super Hornets, the first sale in what Boeing hopes will be a growing foreign market for the aircraft, the paper said.

((Reporting by Jim Wolf, editing by Martin Golan; e-mail:jim.wolf@reuters.com; telephone: 202-898-8402, washington.bureau.newsroom@reuters.com)) Keywords: BOEING NAVY/FIGHTER

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