F-35 engine mishap, UK 'no show' rich in lessons learned

Wed Jul 16, 2014 4:33pm EDT
 
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By Andrea Shalal

FARNBOROUGH England (Reuters) - The engine failure that grounded Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jets and the warplane's now-canceled appearance at two UK air shows provided key "lessons learned" for the companies that build the jets, and the military forces that use them.

While the outcome was disappointing for air show visitors and many people involved in the F-35 program, U.S. military and industry officials said both the engine incident and air show planning allowed them to learn a lot about handling future problems and taking the jets overseas.

The $400 billion weapons program is the world's largest single arms project and encompasses three different U.S. military services, eight countries that helped fund the plane's development, two other foreign militaries, and a separate Pentagon office, as well as three separate aircraft models.

U.S. military officials on Tuesday announced that they had approved limited flights of the F-35 jets but imposed mandatory engine inspections and various flight restrictions, and banned the planned flights to Farnborough air show.

The latest grounding - the program's 12th to date - was not the longest, but it was complicated by the fact that U.S. and British jets were due to leave for Britain just days after the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine on an Air Force jet broke apart and caught fire at a Florida Air Force base on June 23.

Strict Air Force protocols for safety investigations - which include quarantining the affected jet - also meant that engineers from the Pentagon and engine maker Pratt did not have access to the affected jets for days, which slowed efforts to get the jets flying again.

Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed's aeronautics division, told Reuters on Wednesday that Lockheed and its key suppliers learned a great deal while preparing for what would have been the F-35's first foreign deployment, building on the planes' first deployments to the USS Wasp for testing in 2011 and 2013.

He said Lockheed developed detailed plans for transporting and storing spare parts, provided maintenance support and tested international use of the computerized logistics system called ALIS that stores mission plans and maintenance data - and all those systems worked well.   Continued...

 
An F-35 life-size model aircraft is displayed at the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough, southern England July 13, 2014. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty