F-35 officially grounded again... Still?

Such a nice summer day, too...
A week ago, F-35 flights were suspended after an engine fire.  Today, the word is that the JSF fleet is now officially grounded.  This is no real surprise.  According to one witness “The engine ripped through the top of the plane”.  

The timing of this comes at a particularly precarious time in the JSF program.  European support for the F-35 is less than stellar at the moment.  It was hoped that the F-35's presence during the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and the Farnborough Air Show this month would give JSF boosters something to be proud of.  

As it is, today's hoped for flyby during the HMS Queen Elizabeth's naming ceremony is off.  Instead, the part of the F-35 was played by a 50-year old de Havilland Sea Vixen.  Participation at RIAT (July 11th) is as good as cancelled, as the F-35's 36 hour turnaround time would require the grounding be lifted almost immediately.  Currently the best that could be hoped for is an appearance at the tail end of the Farnborough Air Show, which begins July 14th and runs until the 20th.  

This is clearly embarrassing for all those involved.  To get a clear picture of how embarrassing, the Pentagon's news release for this came at 9:03PM July 3rd, right before the July 4th long weekend.  Known as an "info dump", this practice attempts to bury bad news by releasing it at a time when people's attention are set on other things.

It is still unclear what caused the engine fire, or if it is related to the short-lived grounding in in June due to a faulty oil valve.   

All said this is very bad news for the Joint Strike Fighter program.  Almost 10 years behind schedule, billions over budget, and nowhere near the amount of expected orders; the JSF office desperately needs some good PR.  Instead, defense ministers are forced to stand beside fiberglass mock-ups instead of the real deal.  

Any excuse stating that the JSF is still early in its development is delusional.  There are currently more F-35s in existence then there are CF-18s in the RCAF.  The F-35's first flight was in 2006.  Back then, the Apple iPhone was yet to be released.  The Hummer H3 was declared "Truck of the Year".  George W. Bush was still president of the USA and Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada.  

"I was crossing the Atlantic before it was cool."
Eight years, billions of dollars and almost 100 F-35s later, the Lightning II has still not demonstrated the ability to cross the Atlantic ocean.  This is feat first accomplished by Charles Lindbergh in the Spirit of Saint Louis back in 1927.  

Current plans are for the F-35B to achieve IOC (initial operating capability) with the USMC in late 2015.  That leaves slightly over a year to turn a plane that cannot cross the Atlantic because it spontaneously catches on fire into a world-class weapon system capable of engaging hostile threats.

Since the F-35's appearance in Britain this month is now very much in doubt, I'll use a popular British term to describe the JSF's current status:  OMNISHAMBLES. 


  1. I feel bad for the British defense minister. The HMS Queen Elizabeth is planned to be underway in 2017, with or without aircraft. The Royal Navy must have or must be thinking of a back-up plan by now. A naval Typhoon? Are the Harriers in storage or are they being destroyed or did the USMC take them?
    Secondary, thank god that the UK has Typhoons to defend there skies and that don't have all there eggs in one basket as we do.

  2. When the HMS Queen Elizabeth sets sail, it will be the world's largest helicopter carrier. I guess that's something to be proud of...

  3. When I told you the F-35s should be shipped by UPS.

  4. How much would it cost to remove the ski-jump and install catapults ?
    Would buying Sea Gripens instead of F-35s cover the cost ?

  5. At this point, adding catapults to the HMS QE would likely be too expensive.

    More likely, the HMS Prince of Wales (planned to be built but then likely mothballed) could incorporate CATOBAR equipment and the Queen Liz mothballed instead.


  6. Just a point of clarification. I believe Alcock and Brown made the first transatlantic flight in 1919. Lindbergh made the first US to European mainland flight.

  7. Another piece of common sense, Doug. Ya canna argue against the Laws of Physics, let alone the Laws of Engineering, Commerce and Common Sense.

  8. Hi Doug,

    Just saw you last comment over on ELP_Defense blog.

    Here is a simple way to describe the multiplicity of failures in the aircraft produced by the JSF Program; namely, the wrong aircraft, starting with the STOVL F-35B with all the cankers and warts this design has placed on the designs of the other two - the CTOL F-35A JSF and the CV F-35C JSF:

    The F-35A is not coming within a bull's roar of many if not most of its operational requirements in the JORD, not even at the Threshold (a.k.a. "bare, minimum acceptable) Level of Requirements. The designs are also riddled with single points of failure while critical elements of fighter aircraft design (e.g. weight and balance, thermal management, propulsion, electrical power, aerodynamics, aero/propulsive performance, flying qualities/DFCS, etc. etc. etc.) have been painted into what Engineers call "Coffin Corner".

    The JSF was specified and then designed by people looking in the rear vision mirror at requirements and threats from an era past.

  9. Don't panic. all they need to do is to install an arrested cable and a couple of tennis courts to take off from there Super Hornets and Growlers.

    "Rietz told HT at Lemoore, which holds half of the US Navy’s striking power in the Pacific, “In our simulation, we discovered that not only could the Super Hornet take-off from a ski-jump, but could do so with a significant weapons load.” Landing the Super Hornet on the Gorshkov would pose no problem since the warship comes equipped with an arrester cable. The 16 MiG-29K fighters that will come with the Gorshkov will land using this “trap” method."





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