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Pentagon Grounds All F-35s

An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off while two F-35 Lightning IIs taxi on the flightline in a training mission April 24, 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. US Air Force Photo

An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off while two F-35 Lightning IIs taxi on the flightline in a training mission April 24, 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. US Air Force Photo

This post was updated to include a comment from Lockheed Martin.

The Pentagon has formally grounded the entire Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet after a June 23 fire that severely damaged one aircraft on take-off.

The fleet-wide grounding suggests that the cause of the fire is much more serious than the F-35 Joint Program Office initially suspected. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the fire was thought to be a one-off event.

“The technical air worthiness authorities of the Department of the Air Force and Department of the Navy have issued a directive to ground the F-35 fleet based on initial findings from the runway fire incident that occurred at Eglin Air Force Base on Monday, June 23,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby in a statement on July 3.
“The root cause of the incident remains under investigation.”

According to Kirby, the Pentagon has ordered additional inspections of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine that powers the single-engine stealth fighter. Sources had suggested to USNI News that the fire—which occurred in the rear of aircraft—involved the engine and the integrated power package.

However, the latest information from the Pentagon suggests the problem stems from the engine — and could be the result either a manufacturing or design defect

“Return to flight will be determined based on inspection results and analysis of engineering data,” Kirby said. “Defense Department leadership supports this prudent approach.”

Pratt & Whitney officials said they were cooperating with the investigation.

“We are working closely with the Air Force Safety Investigation Board to determine root cause and to inspect all engines in the fleet,” said company spokesman Matthew Bates in an emailed statement to USNI News.
“Safety is our top priority. Since the incident is the subject of an investigation it is inappropriate to comment further.”

Lockheed Martin is also assisting.

“Lockheed Martin is working closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office and industry partners in supporting the AF investigation,” the company said in a statement provided to USNI News on Friday.
“Safety is our team’s top priority.”

Kirby insisted that US Marine Corps is still preparing to show off the short take-off vertical landing F-35B at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show in Great Britain later this month despite the setback.

“Preparations continue for F-35 participation in international air shows in the United Kingdom, however a final decision will come early next week,” Kirby said.

  • CharleyA

    It took almost two weeks to decide to ground the aircraft – that in itself tells a story. This was a serious accident, and adults need to make sure that safety of flight determinations are not influenced by public relations pressures.

  • This is why we should have walked away from the F-35 program and the LCS when it cost way too much

  • Arlington Ed

    Can anyone here tell me if the F-35s are designed with zero-zero ejections seats?

    I’m wondering if the pilot of the F-35A that burst into flames last week actually had to eject to save himself, though admittedly it seems unlikely if, as reported, he took the time to shut down the engine first.

  • zaza

    Just drop bombs on hairy dogs

  • ronfurg

    Wondering – WWJD, i.e., What would (Col.) John (Boyd) do?

  • vincedc

    I hate to admit that Senator Graham was right, but maybe we should have second sourced the engines to General Electric to prevent a fleetwide grounding.

  • omegatalon

    The problem revolves around the PW F135 engine used by the F-35 JSF as while it creates a lot of power, it has a lot of maintenance issues as one has to wonder why Lockheed didn’t simply use PW F119 that used by the F-22 Raptor; the problem probably involves the turbine blades as one of them must have failed and tore the engine apart as it got ingested, PW needs to do a better job with the manufacturing process of the F135 engine.

  • Secundius

    A prudent move, and a good idea!

  • Chesapeakeguy

    That other ‘burning sensation’ being experienced is that of the taxpayers. These planes are being rushed into production without all the bugs being worked out. Heck, they’ve already ceased production of the F-22 and they STILL haven’t fixed all that ails IT!.

    Our military doesn’t seem to learn from past efforts at trying to develop a ‘one size fits all’ airplane. The prudent approach would have been to develop the conventional takeoff and landing NAVAL version first (I will exclude the V/TOL version from this discussion for now). Carrier-based Navy and Marine Corps planes are always subject to criteria and compromises that Air Force and allied militaries are not subject to. For example, Naval aircraft have to be able to fold their wings to maximize space on board the ship. They require specialized landing gear that is not required for land-based runways (after all, every landing on a carrier is a ‘controlled crash’). They need tailhooks and all the associated weight and equipment for that. They cannot exceed certain lengths as far as their wing spans or fuselages, and the same goes for their weight. Air Force planes are not generally subject to such stringent requirements for similar mission types.

    The best multi-use planes in the past came from the Navy. The A-1 Skyraider, the F-4 Phantom, and the A-7 Corsair II were all developed for Naval requirements before the Air Force adapted them for their needs. Why our military/industrial complex chooses to ignore those crucial lessons from history is beyond me, and we continue to pay a steep price for that.

    Also, and for the record, I have every confidence that the problems in the F-35 and the F-22 will be resolved. I just wonder at what cost that will be?