F-35 Fleet Grounded After In-Flight Generator Failure

In case you haven’t heard, the Pentagon grounded the entire fleet of F-35 joint Strike Fighters following a double generator failure and oil leak in one of the Air Force’s F-35As test jets during a flight last week.

Apparently, Lockheed nor the DoD yet know what caused two generators to fail in flight along with the oil leak in the jet, dubbed AF-04. Flights are grounded until the cause of the problem and a fix are identified

Until now, the F-35 program, even with the troubled B-model, had been coming along relatively smoothly this year, Reuters Andrea Shalal-Esa points out in an article about the incident.

As of March 8, the program had conducted 697 flight tests and surpassed 1,000 hours of flight testing, Kent said. The STOVL variant has executed 51 vertical landings this year alone, up from 10 last year.

It adds:

The plane has an integrated power package that acts as a starter, air conditioner and back-up power generator, Kent said, although he said it was not clear if that system had been used on the jet’s return to the air base.

The big question here is whether this type of incident has happened during any of the previous flight tests. If not, it may mean this was a one-time occurrence or a design flaw that only reveals itself after time.

Here’s a great article on the issue at our sister site DoDBuzz.

  • jamesb101

    though this is normal in developing a/c….it doesn’t help the rep of the

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-OConnell/1567566299 Mark O’Connell

    I remember reading about some of the planes used in WWII or just after and how on every flight it was normal for multiple engine failures, and that was on the production model. I believe the plane had eight engines in all. So I’d say this is a blownup non-issue problem.

    • brian

      Well if you have 8 engines, its not really a problem since you have octouple redundancy, but if you have only 1 engine in an aerodynamically unstable frame, its PRETTY BIG. Its big enough that they grounded the whole fleet. This is yet another embarrassing blow to a plane that is supposed to revolutionize maintenance and diagnostics.

      • Atomic Walrus

        Losing an engine is never a good thing. The aircraft might have redundancy with multiple engines, but it’ll certainly suffer from degraded function. I think Mark was referring to the B-36. In that case, the aircraft was already underpowered and had frequent problems with engine overheating. An engine failure that forced the remaining engines to work even harder did not help matters.

        As far as the F-35 failure, it’s too early to tell what the cause was. It could be an infant mortality problem due to a quality issue, or it could be a sign of a significant design issue. If it’s a design issue, the question is then how easily can it be corrected.

  • CW3 Pookey

    Just wait till they Bomb the wrong target! ….I remember the Red, Yellow and Blue of TAC….The Red is for the Blood you’ll never shed….The Blue is for the Ocean you’ll never cross….and the Yellow is the reason why!

    • Lance_HBomb

      Sorry, but this makes little sense.

    • retired462

      Kind of a childish statement from a CW3

  • Jeffrey

    Sorry but the B-36 has 6 engines. Try maybe the B-52. It has 8 engines. Not really a problem to lose one engine? I hardly think so. There’s a reason there are so many engines. Fuel, ordinance, and overall structural weight deem that many necessary. There are critical stages in flight when the loss of even one engine in eight could be catastrophic. Consider the B-52 on takeoff, fully loaded with fuel and bombs. It will need all it can muster to get airborne. Straight and level flight, sure, not such a big deal.

    • chaos0xomega

      If by the B-36 has 6 engines you mean it has 10 engines (6 turnin’ 4 burnin’), then you would be correct.

      • Cranky Observer

        > If by the B-36 has 6 engines you mean it has 10
        > engines (6 turnin’ 4 burnin’)

        To be fair, the turbojets were added after the airplane was already flying and it was clear it needed more power for takeoff.


  • Brian

    When did Lockheed tell us nothing can go wrong? Or did you just make that up so you could slam the F-35 harder?

  • asdf

    there are issues with the IPP and heat so don’t count on it to be a lifesaver everytime.

  • Richard

    Remanufacture the F4 phantoms- the best plane ever- Richard an old F4 crew cheif

    • blight

      I think the low endurance over Vietnam and the lack of integrated 20mm would be points against the F-4.

      LM could lose the entire JSF project and make a killing on doing only the B- version with the Marines. Getting a monopoly on the STOVL market didn’t work out for Hawker though…

      • Praetorian

        Not to mention in todays battlefield first look, first kill mentality the F-4’s engines smoked terribly. Same problem with the early MIG-29’s.

  • Stephen Russell

    Fix & solve now, Not during Combat mode

  • SMSgt Mac

    To expand upon JamesB’s comment, lest we forget the airplanes in flight test are part of the SDD contract effort. SDD…as in SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT and demonstration- note emphasis. This is exactly the kind of thing you expect to encounter for the first time in flight test, because until you actually start flying and subjecting the systems to flight conditions under dirty aircraft (vs. clean lab) power, you will never know if you will have problems or how they will emerge. LM could have built a ‘power lab’ that MIGHT have caught the problem (if it is an ‘easy’ one like software control), but until the aircraft actually flew, their assumptions in simulating aircraft power behaviors would be unverifiable, and the value of the testing unknown. Some things simply MUST wait until flight testing. Expect these kinds of experiences to increase as we move into ever-more ‘electric’ weapon systems.

    • mike j

      Yeah, God forbid they’d worked the problems out in a prototype phase *before* they committed to buying thousands of the things. Some party pooping politician might have got the idea that it wasn’t showing enough progress and canned it, before there were thousands of theoretical jobs and the future of Tacair riding on it.

      Much better to stick the taxpayers with the bill for hashing this thing out for years longer than “planned.” ‘Cause we’ve got all the time and money in the world, right?

      btw, The birds with the old version generators are cleared to fly again. It was a new-and-improved design that caused the malfunction. Whoops.

      • SMSgt Mac

        Hmm. That it?
        Again…its called ‘Development’. ‘System’ Development.
        It’s a concept where something that has be deveoped whenever one is fielding highly complex systems, especially when new technology and new combinations of technology are being fielded for the first time
        ….and apparently it is a concept just ‘too’ darned complex.

        • mike j

          …And they could have - A - chosen to develop that complex technology to a higher level of maturity before they jumped into EMD.

          - OR -

          …They could - B - oversell the technology and potential benefits, understate the costs, and get a bunch of buy-in from stump-dumb greedy politicians and other camp followers.

          The big advantage of option B is the greatly reduced danger for industry and acquisitions of having the program junked, at the cost of their egos and careers and stock prices. Then again, if for some reason the program goes down, it goes down hard… like, bankrupted industry, thousands of skilled employees out of work, no fighter planes “hard.”

          But bad things like that never happen, right? Been watching the news this last week?

          • SMSgt Mac

            Sorry it took so long to get back, but I’ve been out of town and had other things on my mind this week.
            RE: Option A
            The CUSTOMER determines when the Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) are reached for each phase of a program. System DEVELOPMENT and Demonstration begins at TRL 6 where the system is judged mature enough to conduct system prototype demonstrations in operating environment (air, space, sea, undersea, ground) and ends by completing TRL 8, where the actual system is complete and operationally qualified through completed test and demonstration (Ground and/or Flight). The highest TRL is 9, where the actual System is “proven”: fielded and conducting successful mission operations and all development ‘risk’ is in the past. In general, this approach has been used to field weapon systems at least since WW2, although the TRL construct is a product of GAO recommendations from the late 80s-early 90s to apply more formal definition to the risk management processes used. TRLS are the philosophical descendents of the ‘Third Best Law’.

          • SMSgt Mac

            Sir Robert Watson Watt, the British father of radar in the 1930s and led the development and installation of the British early warning radars in anticipation of German bomber attacks, defined the “Law of the Third Best.”
            Watson Watt argued:
            1. The “best” solution never comes
            2. The “second best” solution can be attained but will take too much time
            3. Therefore we must identify and pursue the “third best” solution: “the one that can be validated and deployed without unacceptable cost or delay.”
            The two major considerations are a) the existence of a military need and b) the definition of ‘unacceptable’ in evaluating schedules and costs. All programs undergo continuous evaluation of the need and costs and proceed only as long as the evaluation results support continuance of the program.
            Fortunately, those responsible have nothing to do with Option B.:

          • SMSgt Mac

            Option B
            Believe or even suspicion of the viability of such a thing as an Option B requires belief in the existence of an extremely widespread, amazingly resilient and well organized, yet forever inexplicably invisible conspiracy, beyond the cynicisms of even the most extreme McGregor Theory X personality and a paranoia well into the most comprehensive definition of ‘conspiracy theory nutcase’. Of course, to such a mind, the absence of widespread evidence is only PROOF of the conspiracy, and the aberrations that do occur are held up as obviously evidence of a greater problem.

          • SMSgt Mac

            Finally…..Funny you should mention ‘bad things’ and ‘watching the news’. That brings us to the ‘other things’ on my mind. So far, in the coverage of the Japanese Quake/Tsunami/Nuclear disaster, I’ve seen my D3 (Daughter-in-law) twice and heard her once, as she’s overseeing the influx of rescue/relief personnel, equipment, and supplies through Misawa AB and heading South to the disaster areas. She fits in well with this clan: an action-oriented problem-solver who doesn’t whine about ‘the difficult’ being ‘the impossible’, nor would she conflate mere technical challenges into insurmountable obstacles.

          • mike j

            - Much respect to your daughter-in-law, glad we’ve got people over there to help. Hope she stays safe.

            - There’s no need to invoke conspiracy theories to explain economic bubbles or the behavior of a bureaucracy acting to sustain itself. Certainly the people involved conspire, but it’s more from deluded self-interest than “evil.” Those phenomena are adequate to explain what’s happening with DoD procurement, although the fact that it’s deeply embedded in our political process means it’s gotten unusually far out of control; self-reinforced from that main line to all that sweet federal money. Gonna be a real SOB when the bubble bursts.

  • Adam

    By any chance was the f-16 software reused? I remember studying about high temp engine shut down and no restart button. Classic systems integration software issue…

    • SMSgt Mac

      From an A/C system-level control perspective it is all new software (completely different architecture among other things). There may be S/W within subsystems that are common to other platforms, but those would probably not have anything to do with the problem experienced.

  • Oblat

    The generators have already been ripped out and redesigned before on the F-35. Now we have a dual redundant failure of the same system. Odds are it’s a design fault.

    • SMSgt Mac

      RE: generators ‘ripped out’ and ‘redesigned’.

    • SMSgt Mac

      Thought so.

  • Paladin06

    A number of advanced system programs have been cancelled in the past ten years. Can someone explain to me why we need the F-22 or F-35 to fight was has been deemed the 20 year war on terror. Last time I checked the terrorist did not have an Air Force. The latest version of the F-15 Eagle is more then capable of dispatching any threat for the next 15 years and that’s ground or air threat. You can get how many F-15 for one F-22 or F-35? At least four to one.

  • robertro2