Home » Aviation » 80 Percent of F-35s Cleared to Resume Flight Operations


80 Percent of F-35s Cleared to Resume Flight Operations

Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Heritage Flight Team pilot and commander, performs a tactical pitch maneuver in an F-35A Lightning II during the California Capital Airshow on Sept. 23, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif.

After being grounded last week, 80 percent of the operational U.S. and international F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter variants are now cleared to resume flight operations, following a fleet-wide fuel line inspection.

The entire F-35 enterprise halted flight operations Thursday so maintainers could inspect a fuel line inside each fighter’s engine. Lockheed Martin, the F-35 manufacturer, has delivered roughly 320 F-35s to the U.S military and international partners, according to the F-35 Joint Program Office.

The Marine Corps has two squadrons of its F-35B vertical lift-off and landing variants deployed with the Essex and Wasp Amphibious Ready Groups. The Essex ARG entered the Persian Gulf the day before the JPO grounded all F-35s. By Monday, all F-35Bs deployed aboard USS Essex (LHD-2) were cleared to resume flight operations, a Marine Corps spokesperson told USNI News.

Currently, the Navy does not have any of its F-35C arrested landings; catapult launched variants underway.

The JPO ordered the inspections following preliminary results from the investigation into the September 28 F-35B crash from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 502 (VMFAT-501) near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

The inspections were looking for specific defects in a fuel tube in the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine that powers all F-35 variants, according to the JPO.

“If an engine had a suspect fuel tube installed, the part would be removed and replaced. If the engine had a known good fuel tube installed, then the aircraft could return to flight status,” an F-35 JPO statement said about the inspections.

The following is the complete statement from the F-35 Joint Program Office.

UPDATE: F-35s returned to flight after engine inspection

After completing inspections, more than 80 percent of operational F-35s have been cleared and returned to flight operations. All U.S. services and international partners have resumed flying with their cleared aircraft.

The F-35 Joint Program Office continues to work closely with the military services to prioritize fuel tube replacements using the current spares inventory. Pratt & Whitney is rapidly procuring more parts to minimize the overall repair timeline for the remaining jets. Current inventory will restore about half of the impacted jets to flight operations, and the remaining aircraft are expected to be cleared for flight over the coming weeks. The issue is not expected to impact F-35 deliveries and the program remains on track to meet its target of 91 aircraft for the year.

On October 11, 2018, the F-35 Joint Program Office issued an enterprise-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft. If an engine had a suspect fuel tube installed, the part would be removed and replaced. If the engine had a known good fuel tube installed, then the aircraft could return to flight status.

More than 1500 suppliers are on the F-35 program and this is an isolated incident which is quickly being addressed and fixed. Safety is our primary goal, and we will continue to take every measure to ensure safe operations while we execute our mission.

The action to perform the inspection resulted from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina on 28 September. The aircraft mishap board is continuing its work and the U.S. Marine Corps will provide additional information when it becomes available.

The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents. We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernize the F-35 for the warfighter and our defense partners.

  • CharleyA

    “Pratt & Whitney is rapidly procuring more parts to minimize the overall repair timeline for the remaining jets. Current inventory will restore about half of the impacted jets to flight operations, and the remaining aircraft are expected to be cleared for flight over the coming weeks. ”

    A bit longer than one or two days initially forecast, and apparently parts inventory is insufficient to cover repairs to affected jets. Sounds like they are finding “suspect” parts.

    • Duane

      The inspections were performed as scheduled, and replacement of the suspect fuel tubes was completed as parts were available. The remaining less than 20% of the fleet are simply awaiting the replacement fuel tubes, which will take a few weeks to complete production and distribution.

  • RunningBear

    We know that the earliest F-35Bs were delivered to VMFA-501 FRS. The USMC has not shared the bureau number of the accident aircraft, that would identify the Lot number from the purchase contract. 80% of the 320 delivered is 64 aircraft which is similar to Lots1-4 from FYs7-10 for 63 aircraft. That would be the first 32 F-35B delivered with the majority to 501. As new aircraft are delivered to the USMC, the transfer of these Block 2B aircraft could increase the original 501 number of 12 to nearly 24 of those 32.
    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

  • Sally

    This 80% figure is a bit deceptive. First of all, there are currently 343 F-35s of all variants, that have been built to date. As of September 28, there were 141 of them sitting on the ground for lack of spar parts, or awaiting to be shipped out, or because of they are awaiting their needed block upgrades,. Aviation Week & Space Technology reported that parts shortages and bureaucracy are hampering efforts to keep the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the air. It is really amazing that they would instantly have 80% of all the F-35s flying within a couple of days after the crash in South Carolina, up from 41% earlier.

    But, giving them the benefit of the doubt, let’s say they do have 274 F-35s (80%), cleared to resume flight operations. That does not mean that 80% of those F-35s are combat ready, particularly when 117 of them won’t be receiving their block 4 upgrade until the year 2023. I am sure the 80% figure was used to wax over and please what Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wanted to see as an increase in tactical aircraft readiness within the year, (that is 80%). But to say 274 out of the 343 F-35s are ready to do tactical fighting now, is really stretching it a bit. After all, the GAO reported on June 5 that “As of January 2018, the F-35 program had 966 open deficiencies, of which 111 category 1 (critical)”.

    Same problems hampers the F-22. There were only 187 of the F-22s ever made, before they shutdown the assembly line in 2011. Before hurricane Michael hit Tyndall AFB last week, only 49% of the entire F-22 fleet were airworthy, the rest grounded because of needed replacement parts. It was one of the reasons why 22 of those planes never left Tyndall before the hurricane struck. Even Flight Global reported last May, it took 6 years to repair and return to service one F-22, that skidded across a runway on its belly. at NAS in Fallon Nevada, in 2012. It was returned to service in March of 2018, but is at Hill AFB, Utah still awaiting scheduled upgrades. That tells you how bad the acquisition system really is.

    • George Hollingsworth

      Only 4 F-22s were not flown out of Tyndall before the storm. Those four remaining sustained apparently minor damage.
      I think the 80% figure indicates 80% of the F-35 fleet passed the non-destructive testing of the suspect fuel line. The remaining part of the fleet either failed the test or the tests haven’t been done as yet.

      • Sally

        Yes, I have seen the Air Force Times article too, and it said that 4 of the planes were damaged, as seen from a helicopter assessment of the F-22s that were visible. But, in the same paragraph, it said: “The Air Force would not confirm that the F-22s were damaged in the storm”. (Yeah, I know…….WHAT????).

        There were 55 of the F-22s at Tyndall, 33 flew to Wright Patterson AFB. The Air Force would not say where the other 22 were at, but it would appear that the remainder were in other hangars, besides the 2 hangars that had catastrophic damage. Whether the rest are damaged or not is yet to be reported, as they certainly were not reported as arriving at any other air base. That leads to only one conclusion, that 22 of them could not be flown out because they were under maintenance at the time.

        Other reports have assumed the number of planes left behind was at 17. That means the service was able to get more than two-thirds of the base’s jets into the air, a challenge especially when one considers the maintainers that struggled to get them flyable had to be evacuated themselves. While we don’t know the extent of the damage to the jets, it’s pretty safe to say that if the readiness rate for the F-22 was higher we’d be worrying about the fate of fewer planes. 33 were flown to Wright Patterson, and 4 known to be damaged from aerial photography, . So where are the other 18, if they are not at Tyndall??

        • George Hollingsworth

          I don’t think there were 55 F-22s at Tyndall. There is only one F-22 squadron hosted there. A squadron is usually 18 to 22 airplanes. The other 33 aircraft, if they exist at all, may have been other types belonging to other units that were also evacuated.

          • Graeme Rymill

            Two F-22 squadrons were at Tyndall: a training squadron with 34 aircraft and an operational squadron with 21 aircraft.

      • CharleyA

        It’s more than that.

    • RunningBear

      “awaiting their needed block upgrades”, the funded upgrades are scheduled for each F-35 aircraft except the Tech Refresh 2, which is on the desk for signing. No block upgrade is required to fly any of these aircraft. Most of the training a/c in squadrons are Block 2B and are flying. “When and If” the Tech Ref 2 is signed, those aircraft will be upgraded to Block 3F and eventually 4.1 as required by the owners (no aircraft left behind).

      “to say 274 out of the 343 F-35s are ready to do tactical fighting now”, I love numbers as much as the next guy but it is boring when debates on the 7% differences become obvious.

      Of all the tactical strikes provide by US and Allied forces in 2018, only “1” has been performed by the F-35; VMFA-211 off the USS Essex tasked two F-35Bs to a strike in Afghanistan. So the 274 must makeup the 2 USAF squadrons, the 3 USMC squadrons or the 1 USN squadron that are having the required aircraft quantities building on their flight lines. All other of the 320+ F-35s are either in training squadrons or testing squadrons. So which is it, one squadron (the first!) of F-35B with only six aircraft in the Persian Gulf or 274 tactical fighters on which flight line?
      IMHO
      Fly Navy
      🙂

    • Duane

      80+% are cleared for this particular issue. Other aircraft are affected by parts shortages. Overall, about 55% of all F-35s were announced as operationally capable earlier this month, about the same percentage as F/A 18s and F-16s.

      Overall, the US military has not done a good job of managing sustainment affecting most of the aircraft in the inventory. In part because many aircraft effectively used up their lifetime operating hours, in part because of poor management of spares, and in part because of deliberate decisions to keep buying more aircraft while not eliminating the oldest hangar queens.

      The issues with F-35 spares are mainly to do with not ramping up production of spares as fast as new aircraft production ramped up.

    • CharleyA

      This is what ALIS is supposed to address, but so far has failed miserably. ALIS itself is non-performing. Add insufficient funding of O&S – favoring acquisition – support’s Eisenstein’s definition of insanity.

  • omegatalon

    Some of the F-35’s biggest problems has been the lack of spare parts and one wonders when this happens, is it the fault of the US Government or Lockheed Martin; but when a specific product fails and causes the lost of a F-35, Lockheed Martin should be allowed to take bids from subcontractors for the same component as this will allow Lockheed and the US Government to always have the best components and at the best price.

    • RunningBear

      moved
      “lack of spare parts”, this is not unique to the F-35 but…..if you get
      an answer it would be appreciated by all. I have been in squadrons
      where the “hanger queen” sat around for weeks??? waiting on spare parts
      and we sort of cannibalized it for other flights, also. I always “loved”
      to take the first test hop after it was back on the ramp, not!
      IMHO
      Fly Navy
      🙂

    • CharleyA

      This particular part is the responsibility of Pratt.

  • RunningBear

    moved

    • George Hollingsworth

      Cannibalizing an aircraft for spare parts is absolute death to a maintenance program.

      • David B. Brown

        Pretty much all I saw in my career.

      • CharleyA

        Particularly “stealth” jets that require extra “attention” to preserve LO.

  • Leatherstocking

    We have availability problems throughout the services. The F-35 pipeline is underperforming and there have not been enough spares ordered to support anywhere near high sortie rate operations. We all have our butts in a single bucket and any problem like this fuel line issue (common to all variants) will put the squeeze on all operations, particularly if suspect parts are already in the logistics inventory. It will be another 3 years if the JPO and Lockheed get it together before we’ll have a fully functioning F-35 fleet.
    I still see it as the son of the F-111 debacle but it’s where we are and we have to do our best.

    • CharleyA

      We *could* put more money into spares (O&S,) and less into buying extra jets the services did not request. But that would take discipline.

      • Leatherstocking

        Huzzah! Nobody wants to buy spares, ever. I remember our hangar queens during the Carter administration. I just love having used parts uninstalled and then reinstalled on my bird. No chance for problems with “proven” parts….

  • Secundius

    In 2013 Pratt & Whitney acquired GenCorp’s “Aerojet Rockeydyne” subsidiary, now called P&W/Rocketdyne. And with the aid of a General Electric owned company “ConceptLaser” of Germany. “3D” Replicated a RS-25 Rocket Engine (i.e. Space Shuttle) in 2014, to start mass producing said same, to ween the USA off of the Russian made RD-180 Rocket Engine. Production Facility is to be constructed in 2019, for Mass Production to begin in 2023…

  • Adrian Ah

    Have there been any new simulations of F-35 vs various warplanes? Previous ones are a bit dated now. They’ve had updates, though far from complete (no “beast mode”, for example).

    Given 12% of the F-22 fleet just got hurricaned, the US is now relying on the F-35 more than ever, so I think it’s a valid question.

    • Secundius

      Always assuming that the Missing F-22’s were actually there, and not moved. Good way to Hide Numbers of Unknown Planes, is to show a picture of Damaged or Destroyed Planes in a Hanger. I remember ~33,000-gallons of Olive Drab Paint Missing on a US Army Manifest, while STILL being in Plan Sight…