The Pentagon has grounded Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters after the failure of a fuel line part caused an aborted takeoff last week.
The move suspends flight operations until an engineering investigation is complete.
According to information provided from NAVAIR by the military legislative adviser for U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-Farmville, the takeoff was safely aborted with no other damage to the aircraft. What was a described as a “fueldraulic line failure” caused a fuel leak as the plane rolled toward takeoff at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
The Joint Strike Fighter is a short takeoff and vertical landing jet designed to replace the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and EA-6B Prowler in the Marine Corp arsenal.
“I wish it hadn’t happened, but it is the type of thing that comes as part of the analysis,” said Harry Blot, retired Marine Corps lieutenant general and a former Lockheed Martin program manager who worked on development of the jet. “It’s good that if something was going to break, nobody got hurt and the airplane wasn’t damaged.”
He said the part that failed it made by Rolls Royce under a contract with Pratt and Whitney.
“It is actually the tail pipe which rotates down to get the thrust you need for swivel operations. It failed. Now they have to figure out why,” Blot said. “It just came out of maintenance. Was it something somebody did wrong or something wrong with the design or manufacture apt to recur? They have to sort it out.”
Blot described the grounding as precautionary.
“NAVAIR is responsible for technical help for all of these aircraft and when they get an incident, they look at it and say ‘stop flying the airplane until I get a chance to see what happened,’” he said. “It could be a one-of-a-kind incident and you go on. It could mean this has to be fixed. Some evaluations take less than a day. Others take much longer.”
Blot estimated there are about 20 F-35B jets built, including those at Eglin, three at Yuma, Ariz., and four or five at Patuxent River, Md.
Production of the aircraft in a contract with Lockheed is more than 70 percent over original budget, now at about $395.7 billion.
Cherry Point is last on the list to receive F-35B squadrons, with the original eight squadrons planned for the base reduced to seven. The first squadrons are not expected to arrive until 2021 or 2022.
The Fleet Readiness Center East maintenance and repair facility has been tapped to work on the planes. If development and procurement stays on track, one could arrive there for modification as early as next year.