F-35 grounding explained
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Executive Vice President and F-35 program head, Tom Burbage, was in Canberra on August 9 to brief media on the latest developments with the JSF program.
During the briefing, Burbage explained that the 20-strong JSF fleet’s recent grounding was a precautionary measure following the failure of an Integrated Power Pack (IPP) - a large APU-like component which provides starting power for the main engine and doubles to provide bleed air to cool the aircraft’s systems - on one of the flight test articles at Edwards AFB, AF-4.
“The airplanes are in a stop mode right now because we had a ground incident with an IPP about a week ago where we had a valve that failed,” Burbage said. “It’s (a)…turbine engine that’s driven by fuel and combusted until it starts the main engine of the airplane, and then the main engine takes over and runs it on bleed air. There’s a valve that has to open to shift from combusted to bleed, and there was a problem with that valve.”
Burbage added that there was an “explosive event” that was controlled by the aircraft’s onboard fire bottles. “There was a flame – we don’t know the extent of the damage yet,” he said. “There is some damage in the surrounding area, parched areas.”
Burbage said he hoped some of the aircraft could return to flight as soon as next week. “We’re hoping to get clearance to go back into ground ops as early as today, and return to flight ops on the instrumented airplanes as early as next week. We have 1500 flights and a thousand hours on that piece of machinery and have never seen this failure before, so it’s good we can identify these things early.”
There are currently 20 F-35s at flight test and training bases; six F-35As are at Edwards AFB for flight science testing and maturity flights; three F-35Cs and five F-35Bs at the US Navy’s Pax River facility and nearby JB Lakehurst-Dix-McGuire; two F-35As at Eglin AFB in Florida preparing for the commencement of crew and maintainer training; and four more F-35As at Fort Worth preparing for delivery to Eglin.