All F-35s temporarily grounded
Fighter jet engines to be examined
The U.S. military has temporarily grounded all of its F-35 fighter jets around the world as a precaution for inspection of a potentially faulty engine part in the wake of last month’s crash of one of the aircraft in South Carolina, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
According to a statement by the F-35 Joint Program Office, the grounding is in response to information from the ongoing inspection of a Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II that crashed during a training flight near Beaufort, S.C., on Sept. 28. The pilot was able to eject safely, but the aircraft was completely destroyed.
The crash happened just a day after F-35Bs fighter jets from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 took off from the amphibious warship USS Essex to conduct an air strike on a fixed Taliban target in Afghanistan in support of ground clearance operations as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The mission was deemed a success.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 — known as the Wake Island Avengers — is currently deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region.
In its statement, the Joint Program Office explained that initial data from the investigation indicates a fuel
tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft may have been faulty. In response the U.S. and its international partners — including Britain and Israel — have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations for a fleetwide inspection.
“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced,” according to the Joint Program Office statement. “If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status.”
The initial assessment is the faulty tube may only be on older models of the aircraft, but all are being inspected.
Inspections are expected to be completed within the next two days, the statement said. Some aircraft, it has been confirmed, have already been returned to flight status.
Maj. Joe Patterson, a spokesperson for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is in command of the squadrons stationed at MCAS-Yuma, explained that maintainers, as a precaution, are in the process of inspecting every F-35 in the Marine Corps to determine, which, if any have the suspect fuel tubes installed.
Currently, the U.S. military has 245 F-35 Lightning IIs in its fleet, with the Air Force having 156, the Marine Corps with 61 and the Navy 28, according to data provided by the Joint Program Office.
The entire F-35 fleet was grounded for the first time in July 2014, after a June 23 engine fire on the runway at Eglin Air Force Base. Before that, the fleet was grounded because of problems with Pratt &Whitney’s F135 turbine blades.
In June 2017, the U.S. Marine Corps grounded an F-35 squadron at MCAS Yuma due to a software problem with the aircraft’s Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, which is the off-board computer program designed to monitor the jet’s systems, operations and maintenance needs. The system is the IT backbone of the F-35.
Repairs were made and the squadron, which had 14 F-35s, was cleared to resume flight operations less than 48 hours later. There was no problem with the plane itself; the problem was a software glitch.
Also, in April, a Marine Corps F-35B out of the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C., was forced to make an emergency landing when the aircraft fuel light came on.
AN F-35 “LIGHTNING” WITH U.S. MARINE CORPS VMFA-122, “The Flying Leathernecks,” makes an approach for a recent landing at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.