F-35s Are About To Have Their Wings Torn Open

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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The Air Force plans to fix their F-35As by the end of the year after 15 planes were grounded for problems with the fuel tanks, the head of the stealth jet program said Tuesday.

Seven weeks after the Air Force declared initial operational readiness for the F-35A’s, flight teams revealed that pieces of insulation around the coolant lines within the fuel tank were dissolving into the jet fuel. Since fuel is stored in the wing of the F-35, maintenance teams will have to cut open the wings to replace the defective parts.

Only the model F-35 models have the issue, but in addition to the 15 grounded aircraft, 42 jets at various stages of production have the issue as well.

“Some of them just had their wings put on. Some of them, the wings aren’t even on there yet, so the procedure for fixing those airplanes runs the gauntlet from virtually very little to having to cut holes in wings,” Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, head of the F-35 Joint Program Office, said at the Air Force Association’s AirSpaceCyber conference Tuesday. “So we’ll take care of fielded airplanes first, and then the production airplanes.” (RELATED: Pentagon Tester Says F-35 ‘Not On A Path Toward Success’)

Bogdan said the insulation problem, which if uncorrected, could cause pieces of insulation shrapnel to build up and block fuel lines, is due to bad parts, not bad design. The problem is “not a technical issue, it is not a design issue. It is a quality escape from a supplier that supplied us with installation.”

F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which selecting the supplier for the defective parts, will pay for the cost of repairs, Bogdan said. (RELATED: The Latest F-35 Problem: It Is TOO Stealthy)

“To Lockheed’s credit — write this down, this is important — to Lockheed’s credit, at the highest levels of the corporation, they have committed to doing the right thing, and the definition of doing the right thing is they will pay for all of the engineering and all of the modification for all 52 airplane,” Bogdan said.

Of the jets that need to be repaired, 20 belong to foreign countries and are still in production. Eight will be sent Israel, six to Japan, and Norway and Italy will get three each. The Air Force is supposed to deliver two jets to Israel by December, and Bogdan expects that the repairs will be complete by then.

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