Entire F-35 Fleet Grounded After South Carolina Crash

The Pentagon has temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations in the wake of a Marine F-35B crash in South Carolina last month. All variants of the jet, including the “A” version used by the Air Force and the Navy’s “C” version are included. 

UPDATE: The #F35 grounding extends to A and C variants, not just B, multiple sources confirm to @AviationWeek.

— Lee Hudson (@LeeHudson_) October 11, 2018

The entire F-35 fleet will undergo inspections for a fuel tube within the engine, which are expected to be completed within 48 hours, according to Task & Purpose, citing a Pentagon spokesman. 

“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced,” Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman with the Pentagon’s Joint Program Office, which oversees the F-35, said in a statement.

“If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status,” DellaVedova said.  “Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.” –Task & Purpose

“The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents,” DellaVedova said. “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.”

The office said the grounding “is driven from initial data 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 grounding comes after the Pentagon announced that a Marine Corps F-35B conducted the platform’s first-ever combat mission on Sept. 27. The Marine Corps’ aircraft launched from the amphibious warship Essex, striking targets in Afghanistan.

In April, a Marine Corps F-35B out the Marine Corps air station at Cherry Point, North Carolina, was forced to make an emergency landingwhen the aircraft fuel light came on. –Military Times

The F-35B is a short takeoff, vertical landing variant of the design – which allows pilots to hover and land vertically like a helicopter. Since the problem which led to the grounding affects all models, it appears unlikely that the problem is connected to the VTOL capabilities on the Marines’ design. 

The issue as described by the JPO indicates the issue is believed to come from a subcontractor who supplied the fuel tubes for engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney.

A spokesman for the F-35s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, said Thursday morning that industry partners were working with the F-35’s Joint Program Office to investigate the problems. –Military Times

“We are actively partnering with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, our global customers and Pratt & Whitney to support the resolution of this issue and limit disruption to the fleet,” said a Lockheed spokesman.

Meanwhile, the grounding comes amid orders by Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordering military readiness on four planes above 80% – including the F-35, by next September. According to the most recent data, the F-35A has a 55% readiness rate at present. 

While the Marines are the first US service to fly the joint strike fighter, the F-35 has been used by the Israeli air force – confirming that the plane had been used in May during two airstrikes. 

The F-35 was declared operational in 2015 after working out most of the kinks in the most expensive program in the Pentagon’s history. The Air Force, Navy and Marines plan to purchase a total of 2,456 F-35s at an estimated cost of $325 billion. The program is expected to top around $1 trillion to “develop, produce, field and sustain” over its lifetime according to Military Times, citing the Government Accountability Office.

Full statement from the Joint Program Office: 

The U.S. Services and international partners have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while the enterprise conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft. If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status. Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.

The action to perform the inspection is driven from initial data 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.

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