Air Force Pilot Escapes F-35 Fire During Takeoff

F-35A_maintainersA U.S. Air Force pilot safely escaped from an F-35 fighter jet after it caught fire during takeoff Monday morning at a military base in Florida.

The pilot, who wasn’t identified, was preparing to conduct a routine training mission around 9:15 a.m. at Eglin Air Force Base, but aborted the exercise due to a fire in the back end of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-35A Lightning II, according to a statement from the service.

The pilot was able to shut down the engine and escape from the plane unharmed. Emergency responders extinguished the fire with foam. The test plane was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing, which trains F-35 pilots for U.S. and international forces.

“We take all ground emergencies seriously,” Navy Capt. Paul Haas, vice commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, said 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.”

He added, “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.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the fire, where exactly it originated or how badly it damaged the aircraft, which cost more than $100 million apiece. The Air Force is still investigating the incident and pledged to release additional details as they become available.

One news report said the aircraft was “severely damaged” and “possibly destroyed.”

Spokesmen for Lockheed and United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit, which makes the F-35 engine, said they knew of the ground emergency involving the aircraft, but directed requests for additional information to the Air Force.

“We are aware of the incident at Eglin AFB yesterday involving an F-35A aircraft and Lockheed Martin is prepared to provide any assistance requested by the Air Force and the 33rd Fighter Wing,” Michael Rein, a spokesman for Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed, said in an e-mail.

“Pratt & Whitney stands ready to assist the 33rd Fighter Wing in its investigation,” Matthew Bates, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney military engines in East Hartford, Connecticut, said in an e-mail.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program is the Defense Department’s most expensive weapons acquisition program, estimated to cost almost $400 billion for a total of 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Developmental problems have kept the planes from flying in the past. Last year, the entire fleet was grounded after a crack was found on an engine turbine blade. More recently, test flights were reportedly stopped due to an engine valve fitting.

Operational flights of the aircraft are scheduled to begin next year. The Marine Corps’ version of the jet, called the F-35B, which can take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane, is set to reach the milestone by December 2015; the Air Force’s by December 2016 and the Navy’s by February 2019.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Buddy Berry

    In 58 or 59, Republic was testing the F-105 at Eglin. There was to be a fly-over Tyndall for Armed Forces Day. The civilian test pilot was late for the event and broke the sound barrier over Panama City at a fairly low altitude. The Air Force and Republic paid claims for broken windows downtown P.C. I have made efforts to get official reports of this, but no luck.

  • Lance

    Glad the pilot is OK and escaped unharmed.

    Shows the JSF is far from ready for use in active USAF squadrons.

  • Bernard

    “This comment has been deleted by the administrator.”
    You guys need to fix that.

    Regardless, this plane should not be bursting into flames. We paid $400 billion and they still don’t work. We need to scrap these things now.

    • R ryan

      Scrap them when we have the amount of money already invested ?. no fix the issues make it right and make it the best the world has or will see.

    • Curt

      Really? You think the US has paid $400 billion on the F-35 so far? Total development and procurement costs for over 2400 is projected to cost less than $400 Billion. So far, there are something like 100 delivered. Not even close to $400 Billion.

      • Bernard

        You’re right. If we cancel it now we may be able to stop before it gets to $400 billion. Unfortunately, even fires like these aren’t enough to stop this gravy train. Far too many wheels have been greased.

      • Mark

        only 400 billion? o, that is such a budget price…how much is too much? 500? 600?
        it is ridiculous when one plan cost 100,000,000 dollars. This program is a farce.

    • TEX

      Oh wise one, how do you know that a maintenance troop do not get a fuel line loose?
      Many commenters here know about maintenance as a hog knows about Sunday!!!!!!

  • Happy to see that no one was injured. As with any new sophisticated machine, there will be growing pains. Every aircraft program has gone through this, the difference between this program and others is two fold, social media allows information to be disseminated widely and immediately, potentially creating a false sense that a major failure exists within the program, when in fact it may be an isolated event. Second, is the fact that this program has not completed flight test and they are flying production aircraft. While no military program really ever completes flight test, this program appears to be ahead of others with the number of aircraft produced and flown while the air system and its support functions are still in their infancy. So long has measures are taken to ensure safety is paramount, the program can proceed slowly. Situations such as this one, will be a reason to pause and ensure they are on the right track.

  • Rod

    Glad that the pilot got out.

    Highly disconcerting that after all the costs overruns, this occurred with what should be the most simple variant of the aircraft – hope this is a minor wrinkle in a new system that needs to be ironed out. So Pratt & Whitney or Lockheed Martin is getting the bill for this right?

    • blight_

      I imagine if the X-35 had been pushed this long it would’ve encountered the same problems.

      If they wanted a program with less kinks, they would’ve tested the -135 and -136 in the F-16’s, then rolled out a underpowered JSF with F100’s with the plan to backfit the -135 and -136 later.

      The -135 is allegedly a little bigger (but also allegedly of similar mass) to the F100. I am unsure if putting the F100’s into JSF would’ve made the design work easier.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Yep, this thing is terrible. This is what happens when you lift the grounding too early on a plane not ready to fly. NAVAIR knows their **** and grounded the F-35B and F-35C when they discovered the new oil leak problem. They expected the F-35A to be grounded as well, but the USAF just kept charging ahead.

    On the bright side, the F-35 supporters are already under fire in congress and they are losing the arguments. We’ve simply spent too much already on this thing and it’s taking away from other big spending projects that the government has lined up as well as putting us in more debt. All of this is being done with little or nothing in return. I’m finally seeing a possibility where this thing will be killed off sometime before 2020, despite what everyone keeps saying about it being here to stay. It’s time to cut our losses and build a new aircraft, one that isn’t made through concurrency and is preferably built around a more specific mission and a specific service rather than trying to accommodate the needs of all three.

    • Blackadder

      OK, who are you and what have you done with the real Black Owl? You didn’t mention the Super Hornet once!

      The F35 is a flawed concept but I don’t think this fire has anything to do with that. And it isn’t going to be cancelled. Too big to fail now.

    • You might want to check your sources for information . . . because your statement about the grounding is inaccurate.

      • BlackOwl18E

        Enlighten me.

    • 16,000 hours and this is the first fire. The T-50 PAK/FA has had two major engine fires already. Tell me, are you calling for them to cancel the T-50? Do you think Putin is ready to throw in the towel. I think not. And you have no idea what caused the problem in the first place. Could be a maintenance error for all we know. Or like the guy above said, the pilot could have left the parking brake on. Who knows. F/A-18s have accidents all the time. I think it is time to cancel them too.

      • BlackOwl18E

        You know what the difference is between the F-35 and the PAK-FA? The PAK-FA will enter service and be fully combat operational in the 2016-2017 timeline. It’s taking about half the amount of time to reach completion as the F-35. The F-35 was supposed to be fully combat operational in about 2010. It’s now having its dates pushed back to something like 2015 for the F-35B, 2016 (I think) for the F-35A, and for the C-model it’s only going to reach IOC in 2019. The Russians started years later than us and they are going to finish at the same time, because we put our eggs in a basket that was poorly made in the F-35 program. The PAK-FA also doesn’t have nearly as many problems as the F-35.

        The Russians also said the recent fire was not damaging enough to destroy the aircraft. They plan on repairing it and putting it back into service.

        As for F/A-18’s having problems, none of the Super Hornet’s problems have been comparable in any scale to the problems of the F-35C. The Super Hornet never had any problems landing on a carrier. It didn’t have to accommodate the needs of the other services in its design. The Super Hornet was on time, on cost, and underweight. The problems were fixed quickly and cheaply. The Super Hornet is not the best at anything, but it’s good enough at everything and it’s cheap. The Navy disagrees with you and that’s why it’s kind of an open secret that they want more Super Hornets and wish they could back out of the F-35 program.

        • William_C1

          Fully operational by 2016-17? Hahaha! Maybe the Russians will say it’s “fully operational” by 2016 but it won’t be able to do much.

          What we know about PAK-FA’s problems include an engine or APU fire on one aircraft and rumors of some cracking issues. We also know that the Indians were recently quite pissed off at the Russians due to matters related to the PAK-FA. What we don’t know is a whole lot of things because the Russians are MUCH more secretive about the development of their aircraft. Doesn’t have nearly as many problems as the F-35 you say? Go ask the Russians to release the same degree of information that the US government publicly releases about the development of the F-35, then we’ll talk.

          • BlackOwl18E

            William, you’re the biggest joke on here right now. IOC can be declared regardless of the operational test results. Do you remember the Vanity Fair article a while ago? What you just said that the Russians would do with the PAK-FA is something that is pretty much guaranteed to happen to the F-35.

            The Russians may be secretive, but the Indians aren’t so much. We know that they were mad about the price of the PAK-FA (currently supposed to be slightly over $100 million a piece, which is still nothing compared to the F-35’s current price). The Russians are also jacking up the price on India to get what they can out of them. The Indians know this and they’re sick of it. They were mad about issues involving the design of their version and in particular it not incorporating enough of the changes that they wanted. They were also mad about the program being delayed by a year, resulting in their version being delayed as well.

            These issues are similar in nature to the F-35, but not even close in terms of scale. The PAK-FA was originally envisioned to enter service in late 2015, but that was pushed back by a little over a year. The F-35 is about eight years behind schedule and counting. The F-35 doesn’t have the software to carry out it’s mission. The B-version breaks apart in vertical flight. The C-model can’t land on a carrier after years of trying and delaying it’s sea trials. All of the JSF’s made sacrifices in speed and performance that make them inferior to current 4th gen fighters. The engines are leaking oil. This thing is a train wreck.

            Lastly, William, let’s just get down to what this is really about. You are acting scared ****less, basically lashing out with arguments at everyone on the debating forums. Every time you post something it only confirms to me one thing: The F-35 program is in danger again. So keep posting… because it only puts a big smile on my face. :)

          • William_C1

            Except the capabilities included in the software Blocks are known for the F-35, so we at least have some idea what IOC actually means for the aircraft.

            If the PAK-FA is currently supposed to be slightly over $100 million a piece, and the F-35A is about $100 million, do tell me how the PAK-FA’s price is “nothing compared to the F-35’s current price”. No doubt you’ll give the Russians the edge on O&M costs despite not knowing any of the details.

            According to the Indians there are “shortfalls… in terms of performance and other technical features.”, they are not impressed with the engines, angry that the Russians won’t share critical design info, and don’t like the price tag. But if you want to dismiss all of that go ahead. Despite the challenges we have faced with the F-35 and the challenges the Russians have already encountered you think the rest of their development of a 5th generation fighter is going to be trouble-free? If they want anything near the avionics setup of the F-35 it won’t be in service by late 2016.

            Eight years behind what schedule? Whatever original plan there was before they even selected the X-35? Reality happened and the program has been delayed but the greater part of development has already been completed. Carrier trials are STILL scheduled for this fall. No F-35B has broken apart in vertical flight. Inferior to what current 4th generation jets and where? It has it’s performance strengths and weaknesses compared to different 4th generation designs but overall you’re looking at something roughly between the F-16 and F/A-18. For when we need better than that we were supposed to have more F-22s.

            Oil leaks? That’s never happened before. BTW I have an old GAO report here about the original F/A-18 and the “train wreck” that was. Two test aircraft crashed, concerns if structural modifications to bulkheads will be adequate, fuel cell leakages, modifications to the wing required to correct roll-rate problems. Why… it’s almost as if all test programs uncover problems that need to be fixed. Maybe that’s why they do them?

            I’m not worried, the F-35 is going to happen, the question is how many will we get and I hope we get our money’s worth and a full 2,000+ versus some cut-down buy.

        • tiger

          So great yet has no buyers

  • Every new weapons system introduced into the inventory has its ‘growing pains’. I do not believe there as been one new A/C developed that hasn’t experienced its share of problems. Perhaps the B-2 may be an exception. Haven’t heard of any of them going down yet. (Perhaps that’s because I worked on it)
    Suffice it to say that as long as we keep pushing the envelope and technology, there are going to be glitches no matter what the cost. Also remember these Aircraft are built here in the USA. All of the cost for them is put right back into our economy thru jobs. The money doesn’t go into a hole in the ground. It keeps thousands of Americans employed.

  • Michael

    What I understand is that the JSF’s fire-fighting system was removed to save weight and that the fluids in the hydrolic system are replaced by fuel, again to save weight. (And still the JSF is overweight). This means that the JSF is highly susceptible to fire. Not a very desirable characteristic for what is destined to be a single engine front line fighter. One rifle round fired from the ground damaging the hydrolic system will turn the JSF into a fire ball. So much for CAS!

  • Ben

    Sure, every new program has accidents/malfunctions like this, but with a total cost of around $250 a pop it’s not nearly as acceptable…

    • Ben

      $250 million. Close enough ;)

      • As the planes are now at the $100 million mark coming off the line, you are both way off. Still too much, but if production ramps up, the cost would be lower.

  • F18 Techrep

    I worked on F18s when they first hit the fleet ( before any active fleet squadrons actually had them) I remember it seemed that every other week there were rumors od the program getting canceled… Cracks in the wheelwells, vertical stabs flapping like seagull wings under high AOA ect. Look at the aircraft now 40 years later and they are still building them and extending the flights hours. JSF will be no different than any other platform just have to work the bugs out. These (all aircraft) are all so complicated these days that it takes a while to get all the parts to play nice together.

  • afretwife

    What is the difference between a demokraptic senate bill and a F-35.
    There is NO difference, both were dreamed up by corrupt politicians and moonbeamers.

  • blight_

    The X-32 and X-35 are so unlike the final product that the final select was probably somewhat misleading. They should’ve given Boeing and Lockheed more time: One for LM to redo their -35 with internal bays, and then to give Boeing more time to work out their wing issues. LM’s fan would still have beaten Boeing’s classical system, but it would’ve forced some more design honesty up front…and perhaps caused Congress to wring its hands in despair instead of sinking so much money into the idea.

    The -35B won against the -32B in terms of lift, but clearly to get that lift it turned out to burn tarmac. I wonder if that caveat had been noted during the select phase…

    An amusing argument between -32 and -35 fanboys: http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12786

    Neither Boeing or LM was ready to make the F-16 replacement with the technology in hand at the time. But the military wanted a program to spend that money immediately, so they rushed into it, thinking starting early would save them time and money…nope.

  • tekwyzrd

    “It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the fire, where exactly it originated or how badly it damaged the aircraft, which cost more than $100 million apiece.”

    The most recent F-35s that were delivered were priced at $207 million each. While “more than $100 million apiece” is correct, this number downplays the actual cost and loss associated. A $207 million plane should NOT just ‘catch fire’.

    • neither should my $40K truck . . .

    • That’s not the USAF figure. They are running in at around $100 million according to current contracts.

  • hibeam

    Shot down on the runway. The greatest humiliation in aviation.

  • retired462

    There is no way that the F-35 can replace the A-10! Why don’t the generals that are supposed to take care of the troops on the ground admit it. I guess that a PAC job means more to them. Shame on them. The generals that were around more than 50 years ago, must be losing sleep over the new breed. I am sure Curtis Lemay would not approve! Time to put the lives of these young people over money in the pocket!

    • dale christopher

      Summary- F-35 + F-22=So good it makes the A-10 pointless.
      Increase in ordinance power, more technologically advanced delivering packages, speed of missiles, and accuracy should make the F-35 in any A or B or C configuration far superior to the A-10 over long term. Especially in an air environment controlled by the F-22. The F-35 has more longevity in the air, so it can follow ground forces further in and get there sooner to help out, and it loiters in the air for a longer period of time if necessary. Not to mention if SAM’s are encountered, or enemy air resistance in the form of fighters the F-35 is far more survivable than the A-10 and we are looking to the future with force variability. I’m not saying the A-10 isn’t a great plane but it’s ability to take a hit is fading and a mass produced force with wide capability is really good due to numbers and the F-35 is a good bit better at the A-10s job and remember the A-10 is a highly specialized plane specialization like that is expensive to maintain. I’m looking for a large flying wing shaped drone carrier mothership quite frankly.

  • Big-Dean

    Ok, we can see that the F-35 mafia is on Defcon 1, ready to defend the pig, and they will say the following

    “Fire are a normal part of development, we can expect that to happen…”

    or

    “The new code dump will fix this little fire problem…”

    or

    “Every new plane catches on fire, that’s normal…”

    or the best for last

    “The F-35 is SO advanced and SO sophisticated that it is gained a level of intelligence and this little fire thing is a normal part of it becoming self-aware…”

    • 16,000 flight hours and this is the first accident. Name the 4th generation aircraft with a record like that?

    • dale christopher

      LOL this dude is mad funny! I’m not surprised with the way Americans view they can treat A.I. without any consequences that one of the first self-aware computers would try to kill itself!

  • L. Hildreth

    To comment on a previous commenters statement.
    The F-35 was not designed, nor claimed to be a vertical takeoff aircraft.
    It is a short takeoff and has vertical landing capability.
    I’m sure there will be times when in an emergency, pilots will try a vertical landing
    if it will be better than other alternatives.

  • Jack Revere

    I think these awesome weapons are too advanced for the pilots. More training is needed.

    • blight_

      Unsure how more “pilot training” can address fires.

  • Buster101

    wasn’t there a story not long ago about the oxygen system on the F-35 causing pilots to black out, and 1 air force pilot refused to fly a mission and was grounded by the base commander for refusing to fly it, something along that line anyway, plus the A-10 being decommissioned, a big mistake when it’s primary mission of troop ground support is suited to the situation in Iraq right now; wish there was more common sense in mission planning & not just $s & cents!

    • You Einsteins don’t even know what aircraft you are talking about!! That was the F-22 genius, read more, comment less!

      • ronaldo

        I agree. Too many uninformed opinions voiced here. No knowledge at all of the aircraft they are slagging.

        • oblatt22

          In all the arguments with F-35 supporters once you get past the brochure specs, the “if only we pour enough money to build a new aircraft to fix the problems” once you get past all the excuses – it always ends up that they believe in Santa Clause

          Every single time.

    • oblatt22

      Different plane, same disaster same bunch of criminals.

  • oblatt22

    And here we see the payoff of removing those emergency fuel valves – once a fire starts thats the end.

    F-35 pilots are are advised to check for bacon in case their pig is on fire.

  • RiverRat

    I bet if you got the old Skunk Works crew working on this (you know the same geniuses that made the most amazing aircraft from scratch) they would get it done in a timely manner and under budget. Plus with all the new technology they get to play with, they’d have a hay day.

    • blight_

      Unsure if the Old Skunk Works guys could’ve tackled the issue of complex avionics. They could design aircraft, but they are not demigods.

      At a minimum, KJ would’ve quickly realized that the weight specs on the JSF would call for considerable bloat. He would’ve made many of the same choices to save weight, since many Skunk Works prototypes had to resort to similar weight savings measures. Many U-2, A-12 and SR-71 design quirks come from compromises that had to be made in the name of performance.

      DAS has distracted Lockheed et al from the traditional teething problems that come with new aircraft designs. If anything, it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

      • RiverRat

        True they are not demigods, but I would beg to differ that in fact these guys could handle complex avionics, esp if they stayed current with their understanding of it all. Have you ever looked up the control’s for the X-15? It will prove my point regarding their ability to deal with complex avionics (something taken for granted these days seeing that a computer algorithm can run many sophisticated systems and self adjust on the fly without the pilot making physical adjustments) . My main point is that it seems during the Skunk Works development of the ‘X’ planes these guys built with a passion and given nearly complete autonomy over their projects thus allowing them to create from their imagination. Too much micro-managing, politics and greedy pockets these days.

        • Guest

          X-15 was built by North American not Lockheed or Martin.

          • blight_

            And the X-planes were presumably built with a great deal of NASA (National Aeronautics…) assistance.

            I am surprised NASA does not return to the first A and help the Air Force, which seems to need more engineering assistance these days.

  • Han Solo

    Someone left the gas cap off… DUH

  • Dig-Dean

    We had a little jodi we used to sing about the F-35 back while I was in AOCS, it went like this

    “JP-5 sticks to pigs, watch them sizzle, watch them fizz
    the Junk Strike Fighter is a mighty fat pig
    fire up the engines and watch it sizz
    ’cause LockaMart’s got a long term gig
    the air force don’t realize what they did
    when they stuffed this pig
    JP-5 sticks to pigs, watch them sizzle, watch them fizz…”

    • William_C1

      Yeah, doesn’t the USAF use JP-8? Nice try though.

  • metfanlou

    “Hey Joe, do you know where you left the warranty on that 100 million dollar F35. I really, really need it?” “Nah, I normally just throw all that paperwork away, but I may have registered it on line. I Just don’t remember.” “Oh crap!”

  • hibeam

    The flaming F-35. Yet another variant.

  • Wayne

    One cannot blame the aircraft until the cause is determined with certainty. The problem could be a maintenance issue, foreign object damage or a myriad of other things not necessarily related to the design or manufacture. Until then the accusations are all based on assumption. I, for one, will wait for the results of the investigation before throwing the rotten tomatoes.

  • key rob e

    hey the 1940 ford the p51 that my capt friend bill o flu the f84 r was it f86 s f15 r16 now they were and the p40 now they were planes just ask capt bill o ha

  • hibeam

    The Marine Corps’ version of the jet can take off like a helicopter fly like a plane and destroy the viability of the entire program like a cross eyed weasel.

  • Mark

    The F-35 is happening. The F-35C now makes arrested landings upto and including maximum sink rates. The Harrier pealed concrete. So if the F-35B peals concrete it is just maintaining status quo. The helmet queuing system for the F-35 will be used.

  • YoTurkish

    Pile of junk, but this is already common knowledge to the entire rest of the world.

    It would be better to cancel this program while there’s still a chance to recover from this enormous blunder and then refocus on building a proper 5th generation fighter can actually meet the requirements for modern warfare. Or at the very least, we should be able to make a fighter that can exceed the capabilities of vintage Cold War era 3rd & 4th generation fighters.

    • tiger

      It took 20 years to get this far. Not happening…

  • HeavyArrow

    I think people fail to realize that:
    Planes have the ability to catch fire. They will catch fire from time to time.
    I also think that there is a group who just follow F-35 news waiting for something bad to happen so they can harp about how bad it is.
    It’s still in testing. Of course there will be incidents.

  • TED

    WE already have the f-22′ the most deadly fighter in the world. I’d like to see us buy more of them. Any fool knows that no single aircraft can do all tasks required of them but what do I know I just sweep the floor and run the elevator. the Old Sarge

  • This makes one wonder why the AFTI-16 was never put into production? As well as why nobody thought we could use a low cost, low maintenance cost, but excellent performing aircraft like the F-20?

  • tiger

    I bet General Motors will issue a recall on the F35……