F-35 Grounding Puts First International Flight at Risk

F-35_maintainersThe Pentagon waited until the late hours on the eve of the July 4th holiday to announce the F-35 is officially grounded putting in jeopardy the Joint Strike Fighter’s first ever international flight at the Farnborough Air Show outside London later this month.

The announcement follows a June 23rd F-35 fire at Eglin Air Force Base,  Florida. The pilot safely exited the jet fighter before takeoff but engineers and scientists with the military and Lockheed Martin, the main contractor building the F-35, have yet to figure out what caused it.

“The root cause of the incident remains under investigation,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said in a statement. “Additional inspections of F-35 engines have been ordered, and return to flight will be determined based on inspection results and analysis of engineering data.”

Pentagon officials were ready to unveil the F-35 in its first ever international performance as the headline aircraft at the Farnborough Airshow that runs July 14-20. It’s hard to see how the aircraft will make it now that it is grounded exactly one week prior to the show’s start.

U.S. officials had hoped to drum up international support for the F-35 at the show, but the grounding will lead to only more questions from allied military leaders. Those same leaders have already questioned whether the Joint Strike Fighter, which has been plagued with cost overruns and test delays, is worth the massive investment.

The U.S. needs international support for the F-35 to cut down on its cost. Otherwise, the most expensive defense acquistion program in U.S. history only gets pricier and likely cuts down on the number of aircraft the U.S. can afford at a time when military budgets are already shrinking.

The Joint Strike Fighter has been protected within the recent budget cuts even as the services cut down their ranks, but it will get harder for Pentagon leaders to do so if the price goes up.

The engineers and scientists investigating the plan are under intense pressure to figure out what caused that fire or F-35 program officials will have more than disappointed air show attendees — the U.S. will once again have to explain away another black mark for the program as a whole.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Dfens

    Ok, that’s it. Cancel the program. The next one will be better. We will do it right next time.

  • hibeam

    The Kangaroo Eagle does another face plant.

  • Mark

    The F-35 additions to our services is happening and will continue to do so. The helmet mounted queuing and visual system is happening and will continue to do so.

    • Keith Simon

      Some of that “helmet mounted queuing and visual system” nicely “borrowed” from Russian aviation initiatives!

  • Big-Dean

    but but but …
    “It’s too big to fail”
    “We’ve invested too much time and money, we can’t stop now”
    “it’s the most advanced fighter ever”
    “it’s doing everything that was promised”
    “but we’ve already build 100’s, we can’t stop now”
    “but this aircraft makes everything else obsolete”
    “but the F-35 is better than the F-22”
    “but this plane can do anything”
    “but this plane is super fast and has super ability”
    “but the F-35 is so stealthy even aliens can’t see it”
    “but this plane is even faster than Superman”

  • rtsy

    I thought the nail in the coffin of this program would be when they had huge cost overruns or when our allies cut their orders or when they found cracks throughout the super structure of test aircraft, but the sad truth is this program will go on until the Air Force decides to start another round of “next gen superiority”.

  • BlackOwl18E

    *Pulls out popcorn and starts eating*

    This is getting good. I’m sure the worst part is yet to come. Meanwhile, NAVAIR is sitting back totally relaxed and is laughing its head off at the USAF, USMC, and allies signed onto the F-35 program.

  • BlackOwl18E


    “RAdm Bill Moran, director of the Navy’s air warfare division, noted that as well as funding APG-79 active electronically scanned array radar retrofits to all early Block 2 Super Hornets, “there are several other programs that I’d be happy to come back and talk about in a classified setting. They are very significant, fully funded in 2014 and will keep the Super Hornet credible through the late 2020s and early 2030s.””

    • Dfens

      The Sucker Hornet isn’t credible now!

      • BlackOwl18E

        Really? You got the same briefs on classified weapons technology in the Super Hornet as the director of the Navy’s air warfare division? Do you really think you know as much as he does?

        • Dfens

          I think I know a hell of a lot more about airplanes than anyone in the Navy does, and for good reason. Hell, the F-18 isn’t as good at offense as one of the airplanes it replaced and it isn’t as good at defense as the other. If that’s progress, then I’d sure as hell like to know what failure looks like. It’s not stealthy. It’s not anything. It’s the original “jack of all trades, master of none”. It literally paved the way for the F-35.

          The ATF program sucked and took forever. The JSF program is sucking and taking forever. But the next program will be a winner, right? There’s a reason we in on the contractor side always tell you that lie — because it’s the lie you never get tired of hearing. Hell, you should see us come up with that crap. We laugh about it as we say it. It amazes me they can find someone to pitch those Powerpoint charts with a straight face.

  • BILL D

    Let’s not forget that the Navy is ordering up Growlers so the SUPER F35 [sarcasm ] can do its’ job. This plane is a complete waste of time and money and if any other contractor had a project so over budget and behind schedule they would be barred from govt, contracts and thrown in jail for fraud.

  • Lance

    Meant more F-15 and F-22 less this light Stealth Fighter that doesn’t work crap.

    • Benjamin

      The F-35 is the Lo end of a Hi-Lo mix with the F-22. That being said I don’t see the F-35 as a light weight fighter especially if you compare it to an F-16 or F-5.

    • tiger

      Building 40 year old designs for another 40 is not a answer…..

      • Yellow Devil

        Say that to the BUFF. If the political masters deem it, it will be so.

  • Peter

    I’m from the UK and I’m just getting sick of saying this, but here I go again…..

    I wish we had never, ever decided to buy this piece of crap. It won’t do what we want, it’ll cost more than we can afford and I can see it hardly ever being fit to fly. We should have designed and built our own carrier plane.

    Maybe then we could have sold it to the US when the F-35 is finally admitted to be a failure. If you have any money left by then!

    • hibeam

      So I guess you won’t want some of our Obama Care? It’s good stuff.

    • Dfens

      And what choice did you have? What else were you going to buy, Su-27’s? Maybe China will sell you J-20’s? Oh, I know, maybe you can reopen the doors of one of your airplane manufacturers. Hell, I remember when that little old island in the Atlantic made some of the hottest shit in the sky. Let’s see, short of pure f’ing magic, did I miss any other non-options?

      • Kevin Smithwick

        Developing a navalised Eurofighter would have been a feasible option if the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers weren’t around the F35B. BAE has proposed the idea to the Indian Navy to armed the Vikrant-class aircraft carriers currently in construction.

        Granted such a decision would be based on a comparative cost-analysis such as : What is estimated cost designing a STOBAR-capable Eurofigher?
        What is estimated cost refitting the Queen Elizabeth-class with Ski-Jumps?
        What are the predicted repercussions from the US Government?

        In fact the Queen Elizabeth-class was originally intended to carry navalised Eurofighters. That proposal was overturned by the MOD which favor the F35B on the grounds they would be more “cost effective”.

        Given the first Queen Elizabeth carrier was christened this Saturday there is fair chance it will enter service with no fixed-winged aircraft. Had they not chosen the F-35B this would most likely been an issue. So yes the UK had an option and failed to implement it.

        • Dfens

          The Eurofighter was designed as an airplane to sell to 3rd world nations from the beginning. Hell, it’s like designing a red triplane to fight Me-109s in WW2. You had one real choice. You took it, and now everyone wants to second guess it, but no one has come up with another viable option so that’s why you’re still on the waiting list.

          If you’re really upset by the failure that is the F-35, have the RAF and/or the Royal Navy set up its own design corporation and start designing their own aircraft. It’s not like you haven’t done it before with excellent result. Hell, at some point doesn’t the existence of your country trump the all the welfare hand-outs?

      • tiger

        Yeah the days of Supermarine, Fairey, AVRO, Bristol, Hawker, English Electric are a bit dead

    • Nadnerbus

      The MOD screwed the pooch when they elected not to pay for CATOBAR capabilities. They saved a little money up front, and will now forever after have a carrier with very limited fixed wing options.

      If they hadn’t, the various Hornets would be available, as well as the Rafael. Not ideal, but at least some flexibility.

      • Kevin Smithwick

        Modifying the Eurofighter for CATOBAR would have increased weight and lower performance. Although buying F-18s is definitely better than having no carrier aircraft for the rest of the decade.

    • Dean

      I’m from the UK too. I think we should just have gone with a naval version of the typhoon it’ll would have been cheaper then waiting for the f35

    • tiger

      You guys should have wised up after the F4 Phantom deal.

    • Patty O’ Furniture

      Peter, I have think the UK would have, if they could have……

  • Riceball

    If we hadn’t gone and canceled the F-22 then the AF could easily do without the F-35, just build Stealth Eagles to take its place and more F-22s to fulfill the old F-15 role. The Navy can almost certainly make do wit the Super Bug and slowly work on an F-34 alternative. The only service left holding the bag would be the Corps but a partial solution would be to procure Super Bugs to replace the legacy Hornets then it would be only a matter of finding/designing something to replace the Harriers. I wonder how long/difficult it would be to design a Super Harrier, we did design the AV-8B so, in theory, it shouldn’t be too difficult to design an AV-8C.

  • BILL D

    Give the Corps all the A10s and throw in some more Cobra Zulus and I think they would be real happy.

    • William_C1

      Good luck fitting A-10s on LHDs.

    • tiger

      Kevin Bacon needs to hunt down A-10 cult Followers. They are as dangerous as Joe Carrol…

  • Hunter76

    New opportunities to improve this dream plane. Who could be against that?

  • hibeam

    I predict that some day the F-35 will be considered a great jet and Obama will be considered a great president. And the Taliban will embrace Christianity.

  • Mike Garcia

    The helmet is going to be the biggest issue - Its the Single point of failure for this aircraft and should be a security concern. If I a nation state targeted the Life support building where they will be maintaining the helmets - destroy that building- VBIED - than the plane will just sit on the runway - because without that helmet you can’t fly/fight
    Who the hell sold us on that ……single point of failure! Now Security Forces will have to guard Life-support facilities - the new Critical Infrastructure!

  • George McSwain

    We nicknamed USS Arleigh Burke DDG-51, USS Always Broke as she was always getting towed back to port during testing. Lucky for us on USS Barry DDG-52, we were able to fix these problems prior to most of our testing, but then we had all new problems. Fires in the clutch brake assemblies, cracks in our fuel tanks, corrosion in our uptakes, lack of a helo hanger. All these problems and more than a few others were corrected and the DDGs are everywhere now. Damn happy to have them too. My point is new systems always have new problems. You find the problem, fix it and move on. Its is far easier to sit on the sidelines and point out issues than it is to be the man on the deckplates having to fix the problems.

    George McSwain. DDG52 GSM1 Plankowner.

  • Kim Scholer

    Lots and lots of fine aircraft prototypes, pre-production ones and early versions went through teething troubles and/or crashed, but ended up being successful planes anyway. WW2 examples are the Fw190, the P-38 Lightning and the B-25 Marauder.

    Much as I dislike the whole F-35 program for its ridiculous cost, an engine fire is just an engine fire. And fixable.

  • Jdxy43

    Too bad that the monies that could have been used to purchase an alternative (better?) engine was paid out as bribes and graft to the corrupt MIC and senate dumbokraps.

    • Skyraider

      To add insult to injury the flying door knob has only one engine and will be a fish if it cranks out over water. We could probably have done better with NEW F-16’s.

      • William_C1

        Could you point out to me where this second engine is on the F-16?

  • Frank A.

    The Air Force will charge ahead with this no matter what, the cost be dammed. The Navy may want to bale out at some point but the pentagon won’t let them. Will it ever work? Who knows. Look at all the cost’s and the lives we’ve lost in the middle east. How long has it been 10-12 years? I would spend the money over here. Convince me one plane can do it all.What is the maintenance cost’s going to be?

  • tiger

    Holy Crap, Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in World Cup.

  • German

    F-35 should get a new name: Roasted Turkey, or Flying Fireball.

  • Tim UK

    B2 , can only fly a mission a week due to stealth , F22 is still not achieving high operational rates due to stealth coating and the JSF is a disaster . Sure the JSF will fly and eventually deliver some of the capability Liarheed promised but a decade late at massive cost to western air power.

    All the above jets were leaps too far in tech and the practicalities of them operating in real world hi tempo scenarios blatantly ignored.

    You will see the UK and other Allied nations halve their orders and press forward with UCAV’s in the next five years.


    YES I CAN compensate the very expensive stealth technology failures ! give me a fleet of 50 x C-130 Herc with crews and two dozen of forklifts able to lift couple to Tons stuff and this makes me able to deliver real STEALTH attacks on the enemies for a price that will save plenty millions of taxpayer dollars…yes! you read it right.millions of dollars saved.here is my strategy: 1: load up to maximum payload all them Hercs with…rocks ! (very cheap to find in them enemy countries !) witha weight between 100- 250 Kilo. 2: fly the rockbombingraids at night between 2 and 4 am at maximum allowed safe ceiling for the Herc’s . 3: above the target drop all them heavy rocks on the enemies..repeat raids till all enemies are wiped out. BTW these 100-250 Kilo rocks falling from a certain height at night will be really stealthy and therefor can’t be traced nor avoided by the enemies and will slam into buildings,cars,planes,… with a very destructive force.
    YES WE CAN…make war much cheaper !

  • Dave

    Surprise same team that gave us the POS f-16 General Dynamics now Lockheed . Too bad real company that built the F-15 McDonald Douglas was forced out by politics and generals who think they are the same as corporate leaders pushed for goverment to buy this crap. But hey like they say get a college degree in anything can’t find a job join the Air Force they take any non related or non science degree and now your a leader. Are you surprised?

    • tiger

      Uh……POS F-16? Most popular & sold fighter since the F-4? Want to re think that post?

  • Mitchell Fuller

    So many issues with this plane. At the least use two different engine manufacturers for platform. one engine for AF, different engine for Navy / Marines. So an issue with the engine doesn’t ground entire fleet. Hate to see this happen in war time.

    The real question is at full production what will it cost per unit and in service what will be its mission ready rate? iIf you have 100 planes but only 10 are mission ready then you really have 10 planes not a 100……

  • Mr Kent

    We should buy Jas-39 Gripen instead, much cheaper, better and it works, it is upgradeable, and will fly around circles any F-35 still flying - 24/7. We should have made a procurment and let the best bidder from start make a plane for the US according to specs. Getting the Europeans especially sweden in with us, Since they usally massacre all US-made airplane over joint excerises in Norway, and are doing extreamly well in Red Flag joint excerises

  • F22 Pilot

    Freakin hell, the F35, really this plane was supposed to become the next A10 Warthog

  • Mr Kent

    F-35 strike aircraft? It is flyging bus!!!! Can t turn, Can t run and can fight, it is a turkey….

  • Mr Kent

    According to some pilots at was flying vs Gripen in Northern UK with F-15, the F-15 was easy pray….. so, how many gripen do you get for one F-35? 4-5 or more, it is small aircraft but is more then a match for the latest big fat Russian, US planes, Lets take the Swedes plane upgrade it with what we need for the USAF and Navy

  • Mystick

    So… when are we going to start taking planes out of mothball storage to meet the air defense needs of the country, since we obviously can’t build a new functioning airframe anymore without DECADES of pre-deployment fixing of bugs and testing?

    I believe it’s time for the procurement system to go back to purchasing COMPLETED, fully tested products - not ideas, models, and prototypes.

  • Mr Kent

    Agree, Who ever has been involved in this procurement should be fired. And theire should be a hearing in Congress about this whole messy business. Otherwize it will only repeat it self, next will it be tanks? Or is this just US keep some 300.000 citizen at work since there is no industry at work in the US after the “Bambu-curtain” falled…….