F-35 Crash That Grounded Fleet Caused By Manufacturing Defect

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The cause of a September, 2018 F-35B crash in South Carolina was caused by a manufacturing defect in a fuel tube made by a United Technologies subcontractor, according to Bloombergciting congressional investigators. 

The defect “caused an engine fuel tube to rupture during flight, resulting in a loss of power to the engine,” according to the Government Accounting Office in a an annual assessment of major weapons systems released this week. 

The September 28, 2018 crash near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort was the first in the nearly two-decade history of the F-35 program, and resulted in the temporary grounding of the entire fleet of next generation aircraft. 

While the pilot safely ejected, the incident caused concern among US allies who are buying the aircraft, including Italy, Australia and Turkey. 


The Pentagon told the watchdog that it identified 117 aircraft — about 40 percent of the worldwide F-35 fleet at the time — with the same type of fuel tubes that had to be replaced.

The disclosure was the first official information about the crash since the Pentagon program office in late October issued a status statement while the Marine Corps was still conducting its investigation. United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit “is fully responsible” for “the propulsion system and has the lead in working” the failure analyses, according to the statement at the time. –Bloomberg

A Pentagon spokeswoman for the F-35 program deferred questions to Pratt & Whitney – which had no comment. 

According to Marine Corps spokesman Captain Chris Harrison, the crash probe is ongoing, and the results will be released upon completion. All of the fuel supply tubes on affected aircraft have been replaced. 

“We continue to strive each and every day to ensure the safety and readiness of our aircraft,” said Harrison. 

Bloomberg, however, notes that Pratt & Whitney’s recent delivery track record for engines has been spotty – amid a surge in orders of 81 in 2018, up from 48 in 2012 according to the GAO. 86% of the 2018 orders were delivered late, up from 48% in 2017.  They were due, in part, to an increase in the “average number of quality issues per engine,” which totaled 941 in 2018 and 777 in 2017. 

Pratt & Whitney told the GAO that “its late engine deliveries increased in 2018 partially due to a subcontractor that did not have all of the needed tooling in place to produce more F-35B engines,” according to the report. –Bloomberg

To date, the F-35 program has a projected cost of over $428 billion, making it the Pentagon’s most expensive (known) program. 

In April, a Japanese F-35A crashed off the coast of Japan, with just a portion of the wreckage discovered following a monthlong search. The cause of the crash is unknown, and the pilot missing. 

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