Some F-35s grounded again due to fuel system flaws. Pentagon bans some F-35 jets from flying as fuel system flaws discovered
The F-35 Joint Program Office temporarily has halted flight operations for a number of F-35s with higher flight hours after finding two new parts that will require inspection on older models of the jets.The new problems were discovered in the jet’s faulty fuel system. The news comes only a couple of weeks after the Pentagon grounded the entire F-35 fleet.
A spokesman for the agency, who confirmed the news to the Marine Corps Times, refused to tell an exact number of jets affected by the grounding order. However, one source close to the controversial program said that several dozen F-35s would be grounded if necessary.
“The joint government and industry technical team has completed their assessment of the fuel supply tubes within the Pratt & Whitney engine on F-35 aircraft,” the F-35 Joint Program Office announced in a statement. “In addition to the previously identified failed tube, the analysis has identified two additional fuel supply tubes that require inspection.”
Some of the older engines with higher flight hours may require additional fuel tube replacements.
“While the two additional fuel tubes have not failed, engineering data collected during the ongoing investigation established the requirement for a time-phased inspection based on engine flight hours,” the Joint Program Office said in an emailed statement. “The procedure to inspect and replace can be done by flightline maintenance without removing the engine.”
F-35s that have not reached the “inspection requirements” are continuing normal flight operations, according to the Joint Program Office.
A source close to the program said the two additional tubes currently being inspected are made by the same supplier and using the same method as the initial tube that was found to be faulty and resulted in a fleetwide grounding this month.
Because the Marine Corps’ F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing jets are subject to different stresses than the other models, only B models that have reached a certain number of flight hours will be grounded for inspections. F-35A conventional takeoff and landing aircraft and F-35C carrier takeoff and landing jets, however, will have tubes replaced as part of normal phased maintenance.
The revelation comes just half a month after the Pentagon decided to ground all F-35s worldwide. The decision was made on the back of the first crash involving an F-35B – the jet had crashed outside the Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station in South California but the pilot managed to eject and survived.
An investigation that followed suspected that a widespread problem with the stealth fighter’s fuel tubes may have led to the first-of-the-kind crash. Foreign F-35 operators, including the UK and Israel, have consequently grounded their jets for inspection.
Problems plagued the costly Lockheed Martin-produced since its inception. Lauded for its unparalleled maneuverability, firepower and stealth features, it gained notoriety for being riddled with hundreds of embarrassing deficiencies.
These issues are serious drawbacks that could be life-threatening, including oxygen-supply systems, unreliable software and potentially dangerous ejection seats. The program is estimated to have a lifetime cost of over $1.5 trillion, making it the most expensive weapons program in the US.