WASHINGTON: The Marines plan to get their F-35Bs back up in the air this afternoon after last week’s F-35A fire at Eglin Air Force Base and remain committed to flying several planes to the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough Air Show in the United Kingdom.
“The Marine Corps will resume F-35B flight operations today. We are continuing with our plans to deploy to the UK next month,” Marine Capt. Richard Ulsh said in an email.
A final decision on the F-35B flights to the UK should be made early next week. The plane, of course, is set to fly at the christening of the Britain’s largest-ever aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth. F-35Bs are the primary aircraft that will fly on the new carrier.
The Navy and Air Force aircraft remain on the ground “in safety pause”, a program source said in an email, They will conduct “maintenance activities, risk reduction inspections and ground tests, as appropriate” until the all-clear is given to resume flight operations.
In a really interesting side effect of concurrency, the sharply and widely criticized practice of building, testing, flying and producing low rate aircraft all at the same time, the flow of information about the incident involving the Air Force test aircraft which caught fire just before takeoff was sharply curtailed by the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, in keeping with standard procedures. But those SOPs presume an airplane is used only by one service and the restrictions meant that neither the Joint program Office, the regular Air Force, the Navy nor the Marines were receiving information about the plane, which was secured in a hangar under armed guard. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the international partners who have invested much political and taxpayer capital in the Joint Strike fighter program
But that logjam appears to have been broken, or at least is easing.
“Select information will be provided to air worthiness authorities while preserving the integrity of investigative efforts,” a JPO spokesman said in an email,
Hashing out what can be shared while the safety investigations are underway involved what one source characterized as “much senior interest.” The man who would usually step in and fix such a problem, Frank Kendall, the head of Pentagon acquisition, is on vacation.
This is the first time all the commands and services have grappled with a potentially serious flight incident involving the F-35 and concurrency is, as it often has, made things much more complex.
Meanwhile, the Safety Investigation (SIB) and Accident Investigation boards (AIB) charged with finding the accident’s causes and identifying any measures need to protect the fleet and its pilots are underway.
The SIB is expected to produce an assessment within 30 days.The AIB, said a program official, will begin “its investigation as soon as it can do so without interfering in the SIB investigation.” It should be done in 60 to 90 days. Unless there are classified or personnel issues most of the reports should be released.