Say What?! Tailwind to Blame for ‘Uncontained,’ Costly F-35 Engine Fire

© AP Photo / Lefteris PitarakisPeople wander around a life-size model of US planemaker Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II 5th generation fighter plane during the Farnborough aerospace show, in Farnborough, England
People wander around a life-size model of US planemaker Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II 5th generation fighter plane during the Farnborough aerospace show, in Farnborough, England - Sputnik International
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A fresh investigation has concluded that gusts of wind may have been the most important factor in causing an F-35A Joint Strike Fighter’s engine to fail and catch fire during training on September 23, 2016.

The catastrophic and costly engine breakdown occurred after wind “forced hot air into the inlet of the Integrated Power Pack,” a part of the jet’s internal power and cooling system.

The Accident Investigation Board report was published by US Air Education and Training Command on July 12.

During the accident, the pilot was able to safely eject from the “mishap aircraft” while it was ablaze, but two-thirds of the jet “sustained significant fire damage.” Repairs to the F-35 jet are expected to cost $17 million, at the very minimum, according to the executive summary section of the investigation.

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Last week, Air Education and Training Command announced “the engine failed when the third stage forward integral arm of a rotor fractured and liberated during the takeoff.” That separate announcement stated total damages would cost upwards of $50 million.

Accident Investigation Board President Col. Dale Hetke said the F-35 community has had merely “vague awareness of the issue” causing the engine fire.

In January, the F-35 program office integration head at the US Air Force said that investigators believed the issue was a “tailpipe fire” triggered by excess fuel pooled near the back of the airplane, Sputnik reported. Officials clamoring for an explanation said faulty cooling wires and improper insulation could have been the culprit for the fire. Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus went so far as to say that “the initial feedback from this is it was not an engine fire.”

A different fire aboard an F-35B in Beaufort, South Carolina, in October of last year was spurred by a loose bracket in the aircraft’s weapons bay.

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The investigative report marks the latest embarrassment for the Lockheed Martin weapons program. A Select Acquisition Report shared behind closed doors with US lawmakers on Monday stated acquisition costs for the F-35 will increase $28 billion dollars.

At least $1.1 trillion has been set aside for F-35 operating costs. Another $406 billion has been set aside for the F-35 acquisition budget, making it the most expensive weapons program in US history.

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