F-35: Grounded Due to Engine Issues
Image Credit: US Air Force (Flickr)

F-35: Grounded Due to Engine Issues

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Already hit by soaring costs, delays and second thoughts by potential customers, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) ran into more problems last week when a crack was discovered during a routine inspection, prompting the grounding of all aircraft.

The more than half-inch crack on the low-pressure turbine blade of a conventional takeoff and landing F-35A was discovered on February 19th during a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Under strict protocol, ground inspections are held after every 50 hours of engine service. After these findings were corroborated by a different test, all 51 F-35s currently in service in the U.S. fleet were grounded as a precautionary measure, and all further tests and training flights were halted for the three variants of the radar-evasive aircraft. Soon afterwards, the British Ministry of Defense also announced its own suspension of all test flights.

The entire F135 engine, meanwhile, has been shipped to manufacturer Pratt & Whitney in Middletown, Connecticut, for examinations

Matthew Bates, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, told Defense News that the engine had 700 total engine operating hours, of which 409 accrued in flight.

Unfazed by this latest crisis in the multiyear, $396 billion program, Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the director of the F-35 program at the U.S. Department of Defense, said on February 25th the aircraft could be back in the air “in the next week or two."

Although the verdict won’t be known until the end of this week at the earliest, possible causes include a foreign object hitting the turbine or basic manufacturing defects. A more devastating, albeit less likely, scenario would involve high-duty cycle fatigue cracking, which can lead to complete engine failure within as little as 90 minutes.

Pratt & Whitney also remains optimistic despite the setback — the second engine-related grounding in 2013 — saying that such discoveries during the testing phase of a program were “part of the process.” The first engine-related grounding involved the F-35B jump-jet variant after a test flight at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on January 16th was aborted because of a fueldraulic system failure. After identifying the source of the problem — an improperly crimped fueldraulic line — the Pentagon decided to resume F-35B operations, a decision that was made nine days before last week’s discovery.

With the program only 35-40 percent complete, it wouldn’t be surprising if the most expensive defense program in U.S. history experienced other setbacks in future. Once completed, the Pentagon intends to purchase a total of 2,443 of the three F-35 variants for the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines, though it may be forced to lower orders if “sequestration” goes through.

Several hundred JSFs are also expected to be sold to international clients. Canada, Turkey and Italy have delayed their decision or are reviewing plans to purchase the aircraft. However, Bogdan maintains there is no indication that any foreign partner is considering pulling out of the program.

Given that the JSF program has already proved so costly, killing the program is probably not a viable option. As such, it is better that all the problems be identified now, while the aircraft is still under development, than after mass production or deployment have begun. A positive offshoot of the bad publicity that has surrounded the project over the years is that it is now under tremendous scrutiny by the public, media and governments, something that cannot be said of eventual competitors such as China’s J-20.

Comments
15
R.Adams
March 2, 2013 at 01:50

If I didn`t know any better I`d say this whole program has been run from the start by Australian realestate agents , countcils , car salesmen and our politictions , it`s got all the trade marks of how they run things here !

Adeel
March 1, 2013 at 23:32

well  if USA is having so many problems, i thinks Russians will also face more problems because they are not skilled even like USA. Now USA cannot pull this program because China and Russia are in the race and as a "Super power" (though declining), USA cannot afford to have less capable aircrafts then its main adversaries.

Sabre 01
March 13, 2014 at 18:24

@ Adeel,

The USA and the most of the allies are stuck with this turkey which the F-35 is extremely less capable aircraft then its main adversaries.

Adeel
March 1, 2013 at 23:26

How any one can jump to next genereation without having command on current generation. this statement is totally foolish.

Leonard R.
February 27, 2013 at 20:07

I don't know how important this is.  So I'll leave it to aviation pro's. 

I personally suspect this is just a lot of negative hype. They found a problem and they're fixing it. 

So what? 

Dave
February 27, 2013 at 16:03

Guess they should have kept that second engine from the competitor on the back-burner afterall.

John Chan
February 27, 2013 at 00:13

@Tim,

Winning war and protecting pilot’s life is the last item on the list when it comes to making decisions regarding the F-35. Protecting the F-35 subcontractors so that they can denote money to keep the congressmen elected is top of the list, and keeping fat margin for the F-35 manufacturers so that the generals and colonels can retire to the cozy jobs in those manufacturers is another one on the top of the list. This is free-market capitalism all about; USA is a die-hard free-market capitalist.

fear of da coming Sequester
February 26, 2013 at 19:47

The U.S. military ought to abandon the F-35 now and just continue buying more Hornets, or better wait for da Indian FGFA. Buy lots of them.

al
February 26, 2013 at 14:07

SCRAP THIS PIECE OF JUNK NOW PENTAGON!! WE CAN'T AFFORD THIS BILLION DOLLAR BOONDOOGLE ! BUY THE F-15 AND FA/18 THEY ACTUALLY WORK ! IM A TAXPAYER STOP THE MADNESS AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES BUY THE EAGLE AND HORNET I KNOW I HAVE BEEN IN AEROSPACE FOR 30 YEARS AND NOT AT BOEING I KNOW PLANES PERIOD S.O.S  SAVE OUR SELVES !!  !!

Sabre 01
March 13, 2014 at 18:26

@ al,

Well said al. Good job.

John Chan
February 26, 2013 at 11:05

General Bogdan should not put his personal agenda ahead of the safety of the pilots by pushing the F-35s back to service in a set deadline. He probably is ignorant of technology, turbine blades cracking problem cannot be solved because his military order, it takes money, time and talent to do it, which are in short supply right now in the US. He should expect 6 months upwards grounding like the F-22s.

The American trashes Russian and China jet engine’s short main overhaul cycle by claiming their jet engines can be operated more than 10,000 hours between main overhaul. Yet P&W tried to explain away the screw-up with 700 hours which is less than 1/3 of China’s jet engine’s time. It seems not only the American society is a manufactured reality; even their aero-space industry is a manufactured reality.

Canada is not going to buy F-35 anymore, the Conservatives knows F-35s is their vote killer, they are looking for alternatives, like Euro Fighter, Silent Eagle, or J-31 from China.

 

james_3000
February 26, 2013 at 10:53

So much for the much vaunted myth of american engineering prowess that can go no wrong

Well well after spending billion of dollars and 8 years behind schedule they can't even fixed the continuing crack. and other snafu

To add insult to injury they even lowered the bar to keep continuing throwing money to the pit

Next time you guys making deragotary remark on chinese weapon remember this sucker is born every minute

Tim
February 26, 2013 at 08:40

Cutting it WOULD be a goo idea because sending good money after bad is a terrible idea. Sunk costs are gone. We could buy thousands upon thousands of f-15s and f-16s for the price of this lemon. Pilot skill and number of aircraft matter much more than anything else. 

Cyrus
February 26, 2013 at 04:56

Problem is if they are having problems with a 5th Gen how much more going into 6th gen.

talking points
February 26, 2013 at 02:27

it might be better just skip f-35s, go directly to 6th gen fighters. 

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