The U.S. military grounded its entire fleet of 97 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets last week following an engine fire at a U.S. Air Force base in Florida (Andrea Shalal, “U.S. grounds entire F-35 fleet pending engine inspections,” Reuters, 4 July 2014):
The Pentagon’s F-35 program office, Air Force and Navy issued directives on Thursday ordering the suspension of all F-35 flights after a June 23 fire on an Air Force F-35A jet at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
The Pentagon said U.S. and industry officials had not pinpointed the cause of the fire, which occurred as a pilot was preparing for takeoff. The pilot was not injured.
The incident is the latest to hit the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program, the $398.6 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It followed an in-flight oil leak that triggered mandatory fleetwide inspections of the jets last month.
“Additional inspections of F-35 engines have been ordered, and return to flight will be determined based on inspection results and analysis of engineering data,” the Defense Department said in a brief statement issued late on Thursday.
The problem with the engine appers to have been quite serious (“F-35 fighter jets to be inspected after major engine fire in U.S.,” CBC News, 2 July 2014),
The incident involved the third stage of the F135 engine built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp , for all three models of the new warplane, the sources said. “The engine ripped through the top of the plane,” one said.
A recent report by UBC professor Michael Byers, One Dead Pilot, argues that the F-35’s single-engine is a critical design flaw that will expose Canadian pilots to unnecessary risks should the Harper government hold firm on its commitment to buy the aircraft.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force