Military Aviation

Pentagon halts F-35, F135 engine deliveries Pending Texas F-35B Crash Investigation

Deliveries of both the F-35 stealth fighter and F135 engine are on hold as Naval Air Systems Command continues its investigation into the root causes of the Dec. 15 crash of an F-35B.

Deliveries of both the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter and Pratt & Whitney F135 engine (that powers the Lightning II) are on hold as Naval Air Systems Command continues its investigation into the root causes of the Dec. 15 crash of an F-35B (recorded in this video).

As already reported an F-35B making a vertical descent hit the ground hard at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, facilities.

Deliveries of new F135 engines for all F-35 fighters were halted Dec. 27—while deliveries of newly completed F-35 fighters were stopped the day of the crash.

An F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) spokesperson said to Air & Space Forces Magazine:

“Currently, acceptance of new engines has been suspended. The length of the pause is currently to be determined, and it is hard to say how long it will last, given NAVAIR’s ongoing investigation and the need to establish criteria that would allow deliveries to resume. The root cause analysis and accident investigation need to be completed first. Flight operations restrictions have been imposed at all F-35 production facilities, which has had the effect of halting aircraft deliveries.”

The flight restrictions were imposed immediately after the accident.

“A joint JPO, Lockheed Martin, Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), and Pratt & Whitney team is developing procedures to lift these [flight] restrictions and resume flight operations,” he said. “At this time, it is not known how long this pause will be in effect.”

However, a Pratt & Whitney executive said in a statement emailed to Defense News Wednesday evening that F135 deliveries were not formally suspended.

“There has been no formal suspension of F135 deliveries and we are working closely with the Joint Program Office on all aspects of the ongoing investigation and timing of deliveries,” said Jen Latka, vice president of F135 programs at Pratt & Whitney. “The F135 has more than 600,000 flight hours. Safety for the warfighter is and will continue to be our number one priority.”

As already reported last week, the F-35 JPO said in a statement that “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.”

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.

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.

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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 are grounded.

According to Air and Deliveries of new F-35s have been on hold since the accident, and as a result of not being permitted to transfer those aircraft to the government before the end of the year, Lockheed Martin missed its goal of delivering 148 aircraft in calendar 2022, delivering only 141. The company said it now has nine completed aircraft awaiting final test and acceptance flights, and was “on track” to meet its commitments at the time of the mishap.

The Dec. 15 accident happened while an Air Force pilot for the Defense Contract Management Agency was conducting an acceptance test prior to delivery of the F-35B. The pilot ejected safely. Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said after the crash that the pilot was a US government employee.

The plane had not yet been transferred to the US government, Ryder said.

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.

Thanks to the H/T from out friend Earl Belz

Photo credit: Kitt Wilder and KDFW via AP

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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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