GAO report shows a rough week for the F-35

By Joseph Trevithick
October 27, 2017

Reports of hypoxia, cyber security concerns, and the need for cost review, followed the leak of highly critical review.

Whatever you might think of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, it’s safe to say that the Joint Program Office hasn’t had a particularly good week. Reports of hypoxia, cyber security concerns, and the need for a major cost review followed the appearance of a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit, detailing significant and increasingly expensive maintenance issues, which leaked its way to the press ahead of an official public release.

By far the biggest story is the GAO report, which Bloomberg was first to reveal on Oct. 23, 2017, paints a distinctly unflattering picture of the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps abilities in particular to keep their existing F-35s flyable, breaking down its findings into five core challenges. There’s a major delay in getting depot-level maintenance facilities up and running and a massive spare parts shortage. Beyond that, the Joint Program Office hadn’t even figured out what technical data it would need to support the aircraft going forward and the U.S. Navy and Marines didn’t have vital intermediate maintenance capabilities in place to support planned operational deployments.


Northrup’s fix to the F-35 and F-22 communications problem involves Global Hawk drones

By Valerie Insinna
August 23

 Northrop Grumman has a pitch to solve communications problems between the F-35 and F-22: Put a new radio on a Global Hawk drone and have it act like a translator between the two assets.

The U.S. Air Force’s two most advanced fighter jets, the F-35 and F-22, cannot currently transmit and receive information between each other because both use different secure data links: the Multifunction Advanced Data Link, or MADL, on the F-35; and the Intra-Flight Data Link, or IFDL, on the F-22. Both MADL and IFDL allow for stealthy communication that has a low probability of detection, but that information cannot be transferred to aircraft using different waveforms.

Northrop’s proposed fix involves integrating its Freedom 550 radio aboard the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV — which is already used as a communications node in the Middle East and elsewhere — thus providing a near-term way to allow both jets to talk to each other, said Mike Lyons, the company’s head of Global Hawk business development.

“We’ve got a solution that we’ve identified and made a pitch to the Air Force. We’re just waiting for the requirements to basically say: ‘Go do [that],’ ” he said during an interview at Northrop’s facilities in Palmdale, California.


F-35 altitude restrictions lifted at Luke Air Force Base

By Valerie Insinna
August 30

A wing commander at Luke Air Force Base on Wednesday lifted an altitude restriction on F-35 flights at the Arizona base, but Air Force investigators are no closer to understanding what prompted five incidents of pilot oxygen deprivation earlier this summer.

Between May 2 and June 8, five different Luke pilots experienced symptoms similar to hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, while conducting F-35A training flights. That prompted Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, commander of the 56th Fighter Wing, to order a pause in flight operations in June while officials from the Air Force and the F-35 Joint Program Executive Office analyzed each incident. Although they had hoped to find a common thread linking the incidents together, no root cause has emerged.


Pilot breathing issues prompt changes to F-35 mask and vest

By Lara Seligman 
September 18, 2017

The U.S. Air Force is making changes to F-35 flight equipment to make breathing easier for pilots, as the Pentagon continues searching for a root cause of five hypoxia-like cockpit incidents in the new fighter at an Arizona Air Force base…


F-35 flight suspension at Luke AFB ends; cause of hypoxia not found

By Perry Vandell
June 19, 2017

F-35s at Luke Air Force Base will scream across the sky again on Wednesday.

Officials at the Glendale base announced Monday that they will lift the flight suspension that grounded its 55 F-35s since June 9 after five pilots complained of hypoxia-like symptoms over a five-week span. Symptoms ranged from dizziness to tingling in their extremities.

The 11-day suspension was initially expected to last one day, but Luke Commander Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard extended it to give investigators more time.

Investigators have not found the specific cause of the problems, but they have narrowed down the possible causes.


Another pilot in Arizona experienced lightheadedness and breathing difficulties this week, Arizona Central reported Thursday.

July 14, 2017

Another pilot in Arizona experienced lightheadedness and breathing difficulties this week, Arizona Central reported Thursday.

The event took place on Monday, a spokesman told AZ Central, which is owned by USA Today. Last month, several squadrons of F-35 jets at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona, were grounded following multiple episodes of hypoxia in the month of May. The oxygen flow regulators weren’t fixed, investigators didn’t know why they had malfunctioned, but the military decided to continue flying the jets anyway while safety risks loomed.

Experts were tapped to help figure out what was going on but the service has next to no idea why hypoxia is still occurring among pilots in the $1.5 trillion jet program. “No specific root cause for the physiological episodes was identified during recent visits from experts and engineers from the Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, the Air Force Research Laboratory,” the US Air Force 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office said in June.


Navy presents new F-35 helmet display videos and flight test dangers

By Tyler Rogoway
July 10, 2017

Seminar by F-35 testers details tense nighttime carrier vertical landing that almost went wrong and the breaking off of a F-35B’s refueling probe tip during tanker trials.

A video from Flight Test Safety Committee’s conference early last May offers a fascinating insight into the F-35 test program. A talk put on by NAVAIR and presented by the F-35 Government Flight Test Director, Lt. Col. D. Tom Fields, goes into detail about a couple of challenges the program has faced over the last 12 months, and it’s is presented in a totally frank and unafraid manner. The open tone of the address is downright refreshing considering the usual one-sided spin we get from the F-35 Program Office and its corporate partners.


Force Spokesman: F-35A Hypoxia Incidents Date To 2011

By Oriana Pawlyk
June 15, 2017

More than a dozen Air Force F-35 pilots experienced oxygen deprivation symptoms between 2011 and this year, the service disclosed Thursday as it investigates a steady uptick of hypoxia-related incidents at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

It marked the first time many of the cases had been disclosed publicly.

In a statement Thursday, Air Force spokesman Capt. Mark Graff said that since April 2, 2011, there “have been 15 reported F-35A in-flight and ground physiological events.”

“Five of those events were reported by Luke Air Force Base pilots between May 2 and June 8th, 2017,” Graff said in an email. “In all cases, pilots were able to safely recover the aircraft via established procedures.”


F-35A engine fire at US Air Force base sparked by strong tailwinds

By Valerie Insinna
July 12, 2017

U.S. Air Force investigators have found that last September’s F-35A mishap at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, was indeed an uncontained engine fire — albeit one started because of tailwinds present during engine start, not deficiencies with the aircraft’s Pratt and Whitney F135 engine.

According to a U.S. Air Force accident investigation board, or AIB, report signed May 9 by the board’s president and obtained by Defense News, the engine fire started after tailwinds forced hot air into the inlet of the jet’s integrated power pack. A chain of factors, such as insufficient torque and slow engine rotation speed, caused the F-35 to continuously supply fuel to its engine at an increased rate.

“During this mishap, however, the fire became uncontained due to the increased amount of fuel added while the engine rotation speed was slowing,” the report stated. “Once the uncontained fire started coming out of the aircraft exhaust, the tailwind carried it rapidly along the exterior surfaces of the jet.”

The pilot escaped from the aircraft but sustained burns to his head, neck and face.

The service is still evaluating how much it will cost to repair the F-35A involved in the mishap, which was assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and involved in a training flight at Mountain Home when the fire occurred. However, damage to the plane is estimated to amount to at least $17 million.

F-35s Grounded at Luke AFB After Pilots Report Hypoxia-Like Symptoms

By Oriana Pawlyk
June 9, 2017

The Air Force has grounded all F-35 Joint Strike Fighters at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, after pilots complained of hypoxia-related issues, officials said Friday.

“The 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, canceled local flying operations today for F-35A Lightning II aircraft due to a series of five incidents in which pilots have experienced hypoxia-like symptoms,” Air Force spokesman Capt. Mark Graff said in an email.

A total of 48 aircraft and 49 pilots are affected by the temporary stand-down, according to Maj. Rebecca Heyse, a spokeswoman for the base.

“Flying operations are planned to resume Monday, June 12,” she said in an email.

The incident is “limited to Luke” at this time, meaning other bases aren’t affected by the order, Graff said.

Since May 2, five F-35A pilots have experienced “physiological incidents while flying,” according to the statement from Heyse. In each case, the aircraft’s backup oxygen system kicked in and the pilot followed the correct procedures to land safely, it stated.


To be added to our email list