According to the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) action to correct hardware problems that contributed to the crash of a U.S. Air Force (USAF) F-35A on May 19, 2020 at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Fla., must remain secret.
A JPO spokeswoman said: “Explicit details related to corrective actions have the potential to compromise operational security.”
As reported by Air Force Magazine, generally, she said, the JPO take part in accident investigations and identifies “corrective actions and evaluates, prioritizes, and incorporates those actions into aircraft maintenance and production procedures.” She added that “safety of flight remains the highest priority in the adjudication of corrective actions” and said the 585 F-35s in service worldwide have accumulated more than 335,000 safe flying hours.
The spokeswoman pointed out that while the JPO determines and implements corrective measures the F-35 is safe to fly. The JPO did not say on whether the government or Lockheed Martin bears the responsibility for the hardware deficiencies, and who will pay to correct them. It is unusual for the government not to reveal corrective measures required when a military aircraft crashes due—even in part—to hardware and software deficiencies.
According to an accident investigation board (AIB) report released in early October, excessive landing speed was the primary cause of the F-35A crash though issues with helmet-mounted display, the jet’s oxygen system, and ineffective simulator training were all contributing factors. Other problems included a delayed response to the pilot’s commands to raise the nose, flight control software that overrode the pilot’s commands.
Moreover, according to the AIB, the mishap pilot—and other pilots—reported that the F-35’s life support system requires the pilot to work too hard at breathing, causing “cognitive degradation,” or fatigue during the mission, that is markedly worse than in other aircraft. The AIB reported that making an instrument landing approach in the F-35 isn’t easy and “could have been made more challenging” by the breathing system. The pilot’s report of finding the jet physically “draining” to fly is corroborated by “emerging research” on the F-35’s systems, the AIB said. “There appears to be a physiological toll taken on a pilot’s cognitive capacities as a result of breathing through the on-demand oxygen system,” the AIB found.
At the time the report was released, the JPO declined comment and referred questions to Air Education and Training Command (AETC), which was the AIB convening authority. But AETC referred queries back to the JPO, because the JPO is responsible for necessary changes to hardware.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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