Defence Science and Technology Group (DST), in partnership with BAE Systems Australia and BAE Systems UK, has recently validated the Hawk Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) structure for 50,000 flight hours.
The work was undertaken at DST’s purpose-built H.A. Wills Structures and Materials Test Centre at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne, which opened in August 2004. The program subjected the test article to a full range of flight loads, simulating fleet usage based on projected operational requirements, and represents five complete lifetime cycles of the RAAF’s Hawk Mk.127 airframe.
The Full-Scale Fatigue Test program began in February 2006 with the initial aim of clearing the Hawk for a safe lifetime of 10,000 flight hours and the 50,000 flying hour milestone was reached 14 years later, on June 5, 2020. The average life of each RAAF Hawk airframe today is around 3,000 flight hours, around one-third of the initially determined life. By August this year, the fleet of 33 aircraft had achieved a total of 122,000 hours of pilot training at RAAF Pearce (79 Sqn) and Williamtown (76 Sqn).
Australia acquired 34 Hawk Mk.127 aircraft, comprising 33 operational jets and a full-scale fatigue article (msn DT025) under Project Air 5367. The test program was required because the Hawk Mk.127 was 600mm longer and 20 per cent heavier than earlier Hawk variants, for which the original equipment manufacturer had complete fatigue data. The test airframe was built by BAE Systems at Brough in the UK and fitted with 585 individual strain gauges before testing began at Fisherman’s Bend.
The Hawk has recently completed an extensive capability upgrade program (Hawk LIFCAP) under Project Air 5438 and is a contender for the Commonwealth’s Future Lead In Fighter Trainer System project, Air 6002 Phase 1, which seeks to acquire a LIFT capability for service until at least 2050.
BAE Systems Australia director of Aircraft Sustainment and Training, Andrew Chapman, said that, based on the current Hawk rate of effort, the remaining fatigue life will allow the aircraft to continue in service “well into the late 2040s.”
“The Full-Scale Fatigue Test is a hugely important achievement for the Australian Lead-In Fighter program and was made possible by the collaboration of a small dedicated team across many thousands of kilometres,” Chapman said. “The 2019 completion of Hawk (LIFCAP) upgrade ensures the aircraft is freshly updated and available for service in the RAAF for many more years.”
A Defence spokesperson said that the Commonwealth is currently examining the range of requirements for future LIFT training out to the nominal 2050 date and that the successful completion of the DST and BAE Systems full scale fatigue test provided assurance of the Hawk Mk.127 airframe fatigue over that period.