A Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was severely damaged in a Monday morning fire on the runway at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The mishape occurred while the aircraft was taking off as part of a two-ship formation for a continuation training mission. This is the first large scale mishape occurring with the 33rd Fighter Wing, which has recently passed its 5,000th sortie in the F-35. No F-35s have been destroyed since production began in 2006.
Update: The incident involved the third stage of the F135 engine built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, for all three models of the new warplane, a source told Reuters saying. “The engine ripped through the top of the plane”.
U.S. and British military officials are working on a joint directive to require mandatory inspections of engines on all Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets. Details are still being finalised, but the inspections could take about 90 minutes.
The aircraft was an F-35A — the Air Force variant, flown by an instructor pilot with the 58th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the 33rd “Nomads” Fighter Wing, responsible for training F-35 pilots at the base. According to an Air Force statement the plane experienced a fire in the aft end of the aircraft. The pilot successfully shut down the plane and escaped unharmed, an F-35 program spokeswoman said. The fire was extinguished with foam by a ground crew. No details on the extent of damage to the aircraft were available. No injuries were reported and officials have begun an investigation into the incident, defense officials said.
Engine pieces were found on the runway at a Florida air base after the fire incident on Monday, Reuters reported Saturday. according to sources familiar with the situation. The source said the discovery of the engine parts did not point to specific cause of the fire and said the investigation was continuing.
The fire is the second major incident experienced by the program in recent weeks. Test flights were temporarily halted on June 13 for inspections of an oil flow management valve fitting inside the engine. Lockheed has delivered more than 100 F-35s since then.
“We have a robust and extensive training program in which every pilot and aircraft crew member is trained in order to respond quickly and correctly in the event emergencies occur,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Haas, the 33rd Wing vice commander in the statement. “In this case, the pilot followed the appropriate procedures which allowed for the safe abort of the mission, engine shutdown, and egress.”
The F-35 fleet of over 100 aircraft remained suspended on yesterday as Air Force officials investigated the causes of the fire. Marine Corps said it still plans to send jets to Britain for the Royal International Air Tatoo and farnborough air shows next month. Captain Richard Ulsh said flights of the Marine Corp’s F-35 B-model that can land vertically had been suspended at bases in Florida, Arizona and Maryland, pending the investigation. Reuters reported.
The incident and planned inspection has stalled the departure of the planes that were to participate in the UK shows, but the U.S. Marine Corps said it was still planning to send four jets across the Atlantic.
“We will resume flying once we know more about the cause of the F-35A fire that occurred at Eglin AFB earlier this week,” Ulsh said. “At present, there are no changes to our plans to debut the aircraft in the UK.”
The Air Force had planned to resume flights of the A-model jets at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Wednesday, but announced earlier that it would continue the flight ban “in the interest of safety,” said 1st Lieutenant Hope Cronin, a spokeswoman for the Air Force 33rd Fighter Wing. Navy commanders have also suspended flights at other bases, and Air Force officials are poised to follow suit, according to a defense official familiar with the situation.
The photo associated with this post is used for illustrative purpose only and does not depict yesterday’s fire incident.