Losses and Aviation Safety

F-35s with Fewer than 40 Hours of Flying Grounded because of Issue with Tube that Transfers High-Pressure Fuel in the Fighter’s F135 Engine Discovered after F-35B Crash in Texas

An anonymous source told to Defense News that a propulsion system issue led to the Dec. 15 crash of the hovering F-35B, which has now led to broader groundings in the fleet.

After a crash involving an F-35B on Dec. 15, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas, the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) has released a statement to Defense News confirming that it had issued guidance to ground a limited number of newer F-35s.

According to the JPO statement, “The F-35 Joint Program Office has issued a Time Compliance Technical Directive (TCTD) to restrict some aircraft, which have been evaluated to be of higher risk, from flight operations while the investigation into the mishap on December 15 continues and until procedures can be developed for their return to flight. The affected aircraft have been identified, and the JPO will work with the [U.S. military] services and [international] partners to ensure compliance with the TCTD.”

As already reported, the pilot involved in the F-35B incident that took place at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, on Dec. 15, ejected safely. The plane had not yet been transferred to the US government.

Lockheed Martin manufactures the F-35B for the US Marine Corps (USMC). Lockheed Martin’s final assembly plant for the F-35 shares a runway with Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth. As part of the test flight for the F-35Bs – which is known for its ability to have a short takeoff and vertical landing – pilots will take the aircraft up to test its ability to hover.

The F135 engine that powers all versions of the F-35 is made by Pratt & Whitney.

An anonymous source told to Defense News that a propulsion system issue led to the Dec. 15 crash of the hovering F-35B, which has now led to broader groundings in the fleet.

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The source explained that, in guidance to the services, the JPO said a failure of a tube used to transfer high-pressure fuel in the fighter’s F135 engine prompted the office to update its safety risk assessments.

The JPO also told the services that jets with fewer than 40 hours of flying are affected, this source said.

In its statement released on Dec. 27 to Defense News, the JPO said the groundings were put into place after a “preliminary assessment of the risk” and that it was taking steps it hoped would allow the directive to be modified sometime in January.

Noteworthy as we have already explained the Israeli Air Force (IAF) reported on Dec. 25, that following the F-35B crash in Fort Worth, 11 of its F-35I fighter jets will be grounded.

The F-35 is developed, produced, and supported by an international team of government allies and aerospace industry leaders. The F-35 Program is managed by the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, the US Air Force, the US Marine Corps and the US Navy are all procuring and operating F-35s. There are eight international program partners — the US, United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada. Nine Foreign Military Sales customers are also procuring and operating the F-35 ¬— Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium, Singapore, Finland, Switzerland and Germany.

To date, the F-35 operates from 26 bases worldwide, with nine nations operating F-35s on their home soil. There are more than 875 F-35s in service today, with more than 1,845 pilots and 13,350 maintainers trained on the aircraft.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Kitt Wilder

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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