Finally Flight Ready? Recently Grounded US F-35s to Retake The Skies

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On Thursday the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office announced that repairs for the recently grounded aircraft will soon be complete. After insulation was found peeling inside a fuel tank, the US Air Force ordered a temporary stand-down of 13 of the fleet’s 104 F-35s.

JPO spokesman Joe DellaVedova told Military.com in an email, "Rapid progress is being made in fixing 15 operational F-35A aircraft needing modifications to repair non-compliant Polyalphaolefin (PAO) coolant tubes…All 15 aircraft are expected to fly again by the end of the year." 

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He added, "At the same time, modification work is progressing on 42 production aircraft in assembly. Lockheed Martin expects to start delivering these aircraft in December. These first deliveries include jets from Israel and Japan, these nation’s first deliveries."

The Joint Strike Fighter program is considered a global initiative, with Canada, Denmark, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and Norway serving as the original nine partner countries. Norway’s military has stated that their two crafts should be in working condition by November’s end.

According to DellaVedova, engineering teams from Lockheed Martin, the craft’s manufacturer, and JPO found solutions to the issues affecting the F-35A’s coolant tubes, pointing out that, "This was not a technical or design issue; it was a supply chain manufacturing quality issue…The debris came from the non-compliant PAO tubes." 

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Since being introduced in 2006 the F-35 has been criticized as a failure and plagued with multiple issues, including problems with the logistics systems, faulty avionics processors, landing gear and fuel tank design.

Writing on the F-35’s battle capabilities, Business Insider quoted Vermont Air National Guard civilian pilot Adam Alpert saying, "If you get into a dogfight with the F-35, somebody made a mistake. It's like having a knife fight in a telephone booth — very unpredictable."

In September one of the fifth-generation fighters burst into flames during an exercise at Idaho’s Mountain Home Air Force Base. There were no injuries reported. A similar incident took place at Eglin Air Force in Florida, where a  Air Education and Training Command Accident Investigation Board report attributed the fire to a fractured engine rotor. The pilot was able to terminate the takeoff and exit the jet unharmed.

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