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       The F-35 Lightning II investigation into the engine fire that occurred in one plane on June 23, 2014 has reached some preliminary conclusions that this was an isolated incident.

...Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told reporters the piece in question is the third-stage integrally bladed rotor. All 98 in-service F135 engines have been checked, and no others have the same problem, he said. Some “rubbing” between the spinning blades and the casing lining is acceptable, Bogdan explained, but in this case the fit was too tight, causing “micro-cracking” in the solid-piece blades and creating excessive heat build-up. This caused the engine to “come apart,” he said. “We have … a body of evidence now that we think is ample … to fully understand what happened,” he asserted.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.

          The F-35 program has been the target of much criticism over costs, performance issues, and the very rationale for its existence almost from day one. (Recent diary on this topic here.) While some of the criticism is justified, it should also be considered that the "narrative effect" is in operation. That is, once a story line gets accepted as the takeaway on a given subject, it's difficult to change it. (It seems to have become a cottage industry.) In the case of the F-35, the bad news is taken as a given, while good news gets little attention.

Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan said the program had already lowered the projected cost to fly, operate and repair the jets by 9 percent, and hoped to eventually achieve a 30 percent reduction from an initial estimate that put the "sustainment" cost at $1.11 trillion over the next five decades.

Kendall, Bogdan and other U.S. officials spoke with reporters after a two-day meeting of top officials with the key companies and countries involved in the $398.6 billion program, the Pentagon's costliest weapons program.

Kendall said the Pentagon was also starting to look at a possible multi-year procurement agreement, given the large numbers of jets to be bought by the U.S. military and other countries, which could help further lower the acquisition cost.

         In this incident, it appears the problem is isolated. Was it a quality control issue with the particular engine component that failed? Was it a maintenance issue? That is what the investigation will be attempting to resolve. As the preliminary report notes, none of the other 98 F-35s have been found to have that problem with their engines. Given the relative newness of the F-35 and its ongoing development, the grounding of the fleet for three weeks was not an unreasonable response. Some things only become apparent as experience is gained - and that simply takes time.

        Caution is still being exercised. The F-35 fleet can fly - but with restrictions for now.

...within a restricted envelope, and only after rigorous engine inspections, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday. Specifically, the F-35s are limited to speed of under 0.9 Mach; 18 degrees angle of attack, between -1G to +3 G maneuvers, and 1/2 stick deflection for rolls. Also, the front engine fans are to be inspected every three hours of flying time—a requirement that precluded the six-hour trip to Britain for their Farnborough Air Show debut. Kirby said Air Force and Navy airworthiness authorities cleared flights to resume with the above-stated caveats, with full clearance pending a final “root cause” for the engine fire, which Pentagon acquisition czar Frank Kendall on Monday said was due to blade “rubbing” against the engine case.
       Further data suggesting that the problem is not a systemic flaw, according to the same article is that
...The F-35 has amassed about 26,000 hours on the engines with no similar failure, he [General John Amos] added.
        It was hoped the F-35 would be appearing at the Farnborough International Air Show, a premiere event for the aerospace industry. Its absence is a great disappointment.
...Analysts said the timing of the problems, just as Lockheed Martin was hoping to demonstrate the plane to prospective export buyers at the Farnborough show, could not have been worse.

“It is a huge embarrassment,” said Howard Wheeldon, an independent investment strategist and a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in London. “There’s no getting away from that.”

The Pentagon has committed to buying more than 2,400 of the single-engine supersonic planes, which are built to be almost undetectable by radar. A dozen other American allies — including Australia, Canada, Israel and Japan — have signaled plans to buy as many as 700 in total. But budget constraints have already led some countries, including Britain, Italy and the Netherlands, to consider reducing their original purchase plans.

For Those on a Budget...

          The BBC also notes the disappointment over the absence of the F-35 - but does bring up the fighter you've probably never heard of: The Scorpion.

The Scorpion costs about $20m (£12m) a throw, is built from off-the-shelf components, and went from drawing board to first flight in 23 months.

The F-35, costing three times as much and conceived in the early 1990s, is still in the US while engineers figure out what caused a fire that has grounded the entire fleet.

OK, making comparisons is unfair; the Scorpion and F-35 are lightyears apart in specification and functionality. But it is still slightly ironic.

Whit Peters, part of the company behind the Scorpion, was involved in the F-35 when he was Secretary of the US Air Force in the 1990s.

A few years ago, he and some colleagues had an idea for a new, light tactical fighter for general security and reconnaissance, positioned between existing cheaper, but ageing aircraft, and full-on strike fighters.

"We were pretty sure that there was a gap in the market," Mr Peters says. "It was about building something with enough tactical capacity to satisfy customers, but that also had low running costs. We are in an era when defence departments are facing budget cuts."

  The Scorpion is a gamble, in that the prototype has been built completely on speculation. There's no military funding behind it, and no customers as of yet - but it might be the right aircraft at the right time, for the roles it is intended to fill.
The two-seat, twin-engine Scorpion, made of advanced composites used in civil aircraft, will carry infrared air-to-air missiles and wing-mounted gun pods.

Border control, reconnaissance, maintaining no-fly zones: these are the main functions. Indeed, that is the role of most fighter aircraft missions these days.

Mr Anderson says the Scorpion's big selling point is its low operating costs - $3,000 an hour.

Global market

The US is currently using its F-16 super-jet on low-end missions in Afghanistan. "There's no air-to-air threat there," says Mr Anderson.

"They are spending $18,000 an hour running the F-16. You're burning the life of the aircraft on missions it was not designed for."


       There's a certain school of thought that regards manned aircraft for combat purposes, whether F-35 or Scorpion,  to be a dead end, with drones the logical solution. Well, drones have their bad days too, as this pdf report on a recent drone loss details. To summarize the report, a coolant leak caused engine overheating and a loss of thrust; the onboard control system misdiagnosed the problem and its automated responses prevented the mission crew from taking corrective actions. They had to guide it to a forced 'landing' in the Mediterranean; loss of the RPA and mission equipment is estimated at $4.6 million, according to the July 10 report.

       This isn't to ignore the potential of remotely piloted aircraft, but it wouldn't be the  first time the promise of new technology has blinded people to the hard realities of putting them into play in the real world.

One of the greatest single disasters in the history of Britain's post-war industry and technology was brought about by a Conservative defence minister, Duncan Sandys, in 1957. This has generally been referred to since as the 1957 White Paper. The thinking behind this White paper was that all manned aircraft would have been replaced by guided missiles by no later than the 1970s, and thus that all the promising projects in development could be cancelled - as most were.
     This is one reason the British are looking to buy F-35s from America today.

      The F-35 saga has a ways to run. Even one of the plane's harshest critics has had to acknowledge some painful facts.

Like it or not, the stealthy F-35 is the future of U.S. air power. There are few alternatives. Lockheed Martin’s engineers have done millions of man-hours of work on the design since development began in the 1990s. Starting work on a new plane now would force the Defense Department to wait a decade or more, during which other countries might pull ahead in jet design. Russia, China and Japan are all working on new stealth fighter models.
      While a low sodium diet might normally be regarded as a health measure, take the worries about the potential Russian, Chinese, and Japanese competition with a hefty grain of salt. Ditto for the hopes and fears about the F-35. There have been any number of aircraft that have never lived up to the initial hype, just as there have been others with troubled beginnings they overcame. It ain't over till its over.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (23+ / 0-)

    There used to be a joke that no aircraft could fly until the weight of the aircraft was matched by the weight of the paperwork associated with the program.

    That was before everything went digital; we're still working out how many lines of code it takes now.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 05:27:55 PM PDT

  •  F-35 vs Scorpion (4+ / 0-)

    For the money, you can put six Scorpions in the air for what is costs for one stinking F-35.   My guess is you can take out an F-35 with just two scorpions, leaving the opponent for airplanes ahead.  
    Good for the Pentagon.  I'm sure the Lockheed executives are sleeping comfortably tonight, knowing their airplane is a sitting duck.  But it's not about winning a potential war, is it?  It's all about how much they can milk the Pentagon brass.
    Robert McNamara's policies live on even though he's dead.  

    •  Before you get too excited about the Scorpion…. (4+ / 0-)

      Keep in mind the Pentagon has been nowhere near it yet. They've only built one copy. Who knows what it will look like or what it will cost if the generals show up with a wish list of things they absolutely must have…

      For one thing, it's not supersonic; the higher, farther, faster crowd isn't going to like that. Can it drop a nuke? That's another one that shows up sooner or later. And, it's never actually been tested with working weapons systems yet. Can it fly off a carrier? Refuel in flight?

      Still a long way to go for the Scorpion.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:08:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  When there's a VTOL Scorpion for the USMC and RN (5+ / 0-)

      ....they should buy it, in the meantime, the F-35B is the only replacement for aging Harriers for the Marines or the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.

      The Marines are heavily invested in VTOL systems, their planning and tactics are completely structured around having their own pocket VTOL air force that can operate "in the mud" with "the Grunts" and doesn't rely on a big air base and 10,000 foot runways.

      "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

      by leftykook on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:21:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think there's a conceptual problem with the F-35 (8+ / 0-)

        There is no such thing as a do it all aircraft.

        It's like asking for a Mack truck that can haul the freight, win F1 races and plow the fields.

        I'm a Vietnam Era vet. I'm also an Erma Bombeck Era vet. When cussing me out and calling me names please indicate which vet you would like to respond to your world changing thoughts.

        by Just Bob on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 10:02:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, considering the TFX fiasco.... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xaxnar, Just Bob, patbahn

          ....a not-unreasonable argument.

          I don't believe the current fiasco-in-the-making is as bad as the TFX, which didn't really meet the requirements and missions of the different services, and which was being developed while it's mission was still in flux, resulting in the Navy completely rejecting the naval variant of the F-111.

          The TFX started out to be a high altitude supersonic attack aircraft that was supposed to be capable of defending itself, at the very time it was becoming apparent that such aircraft would survive being utilized as envisioned for about 10 minutes, and the whole attack strategy became "Fly as low as possible and as fast as possible" and the plane was actually too massive to do it's mission without all sorts of technical jiggering with finicky and complex systems.

          I don't think the F-35 variants are as far from each other's missions as the TFX/F-111 was.

          "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

          by leftykook on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 04:25:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  how about STOL (0+ / 0-)

        the USMC did great with STOL aircraft, it might get them
        a lot of bang for the buck

    •  The same type of comparison was made with the (7+ / 0-)

      F-15 v. F-4. The Air Force was never willing to try to take on four F-4s v. one F-15 at Top Gun even though they claimed it would be no contest for the F-15.

      I'm a Vietnam Era vet. I'm also an Erma Bombeck Era vet. When cussing me out and calling me names please indicate which vet you would like to respond to your world changing thoughts.

      by Just Bob on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:35:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  F-22 vs F-15 (7+ / 0-)

        If you have four F-22s that are fully data-linked, I'm told they will take on as many F-15s as you have to throw at them until they run out of missiles.

        At which point the F-22s will turn around and supercruise back home.

        Apparently it's that good.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:42:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  the few times it was tried, the F-15 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Just Bob

        would maul one F-4, be in the process of killing the second
        when the other team would jump it.

        now they did try that with a MATV and a HIMAT.

        the thrust manuevering birds could fight an all attitude engagement, which revolutionized tactics,  but that
        is a whole different thing.

    •  The Panzer effect (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Germany had this great idea, and they carried it off with gusto, build tanks that were superior to every other tank in the world.

      Panzers were deadly in one-on-one combat with Allied forces, laughing at our smaller main guns and punching holes in our armor.

      But, we had five tanks for every Panzer and while the German tank was killing one, the other four were pounding it into rubble.

      My point, put an F-35 against four or five F-15 or F-18 equivalents and it will likely suffer significant damage if not go down.

      I'd rather have a squadron of F-15's than one F-35 any day in any battle.

    •  stealth works best head on (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      it has a lot of issues with bi-static radar and
      airborne radar.

      Plus it's not a lot of good to be stealthy if you have
      a big IR signature or leave a smoke or contrail or
      are big enough to see.

  •  There is no "good news" regarding this welfare (9+ / 0-)

    program. "Not as bad as expected" only translates to "good news" in DC and among those whose morality allows them to live and profit from the deaths and suffering of millions.

    There is no justification for this platform beyond profit seeking and the most expensive welfare program on earth. There is no other force on earth, real or imagined in the scare factory, that could even dream of surviving 24 hours in an air war with the U.S.

    Even if you swallow a whole bottle of blue pills and imagine that (insert favorite boogy-man here) did decide to commit the world to suicide, they have absolutely no hope of winning against the numbers and force we have right now.

    Now, if you chase those pills down with a giant glass of distilled, 60 year old paranoia, and create an imaginary scenario where the whole world united against the U.S., we'd still win the air war, but it would be a fight.

    When engaging these fantasists, it's important to remember that they don't have any justification for any of their positions, because they are all based on fantasy, and so you have to stop the argument right at the premise.

    Do that and they have nothing (but be careful, many of them are prone to violence).

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

    by Greyhound on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:18:29 PM PDT

  •  f35 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JML9999, RiveroftheWest

    is a boondoggle, many air experts are already stating they believe the Russian T50 will be and is superior.

    •  But not experts from India... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JML9999, mookins, Timaeus, RiveroftheWest

      Does this sound familiar?

      Russia’s new T-50 stealth fighter is fast, maneuverable, heavily-armed and hard to detect on radar. In theory.

      But according to Indian air force officials, in practice the Sukhoi-made stealth jet is also too expensive, poorly engineered and powered by old and unreliable engines.

      The Indians’ complaints illustrate the yawning gulf between stealth warplane design and the actual production of radar-evading jets. In other words, it’s one thing to sketch an advanced warplane on paper. It’s quite another to build one and get it to work.

      Kind of a big Oopsie here too.
      “It could be seen that the plane still suffers from the strict g-limits,” says Piotr Butowski on his MAKS reports published on monthly aviation magazine Magazyn Lotnictwo.

      “The plane underwent a modernization in the Sukhoi facility on the Polikarpov Street in Moscow Dec. 2012 and May 2013. The airframe was reinforced according to the flight tests and static tests that were already carried out; many new overlays can be seen on the airplane’s surface. ”

      Indeed, the airframe has been strenghtened using pieces of metal put on the surface of the wings which can be spotted on this photo by Alexey Mitayev.

      Back in the 2011, when PAK-FA debuted, both prototypes had technical problems. First one, “51″ had structural breaks, while second one, “52″ suffered a quite embarrassing flameout at the beginning of its MAKS 2011 performance and was forced to abort take off and display.

      emphasis added

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:30:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Stealth isn't all it's touted as. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        prfb, RiveroftheWest, Farugia

        In 1999 Yugoslav air defenses modified frequencies on dated Soviet era radar and bagged an F-117. If a third rate air defense can figure it out, it follows that a much more superior air defense like India can easily keep an eye on the stealth efforts of Russia and China.

  •  The Navy with one failure after another. (5+ / 0-)

    They spend huge bucks on Virginia class attack subs, only to be out-stealthed by the Swedes with electric boats that run on LOX and kerosene. The Little Crappy Ships are so bad the Navy decided to build both. The tri-hull design already has structural cracks and the other one uses water jets with stainless steel nozzles and an aluminum hull. Mate those two in sea water and you get rampant corrosion. And now they could have bought Advanced Super Hornet upgrade kits, without purchasing a single plane.  

    •  Like the F111 fiasco from the 70's nt (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mookins, RiveroftheWest, Simplify

      I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

      by JML9999 on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:43:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Very much like the F-111 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It was intended to do all things for all services. Bad Idea.

        Anyone considering a dog for personal safety should treat that decision as seriously as they would buying a gun.

        by Dogs are fuzzy on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 12:14:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  That being said, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Simplify, JML9999

        once the F-111 had the bugs worked out, it was apparently a pretty sweet plane to fly, at least according to the pilots I've spoken with. I tend to agree with people who say enormous expenditure on advanced aircraft edges toward overkill in the current world, but beware of the narrative effect:

        it should also be considered that the "narrative effect" is in operation. That is, once a story line gets accepted as the takeaway on a given subject, it's difficult to change it.
        This is something I think almost everyone is guilty of at one point or another. With expensive aircraft, whose failures are spectacular and public, it is a particular risk.

        "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

        by northsylvania on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 12:47:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Vietnam War, spying on dissidents... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        We seem to be repeating too many of those '70s misadventures of late.

        Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

        by Simplify on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 01:53:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  A three hour (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mookins, Tinfoil Hat, RiveroftheWest

    Tour Flight

    I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

    by JML9999 on Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 06:39:06 PM PDT

  •  My mind is at ease. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    prfb, RiveroftheWest
    Also, the front engine fans are to be inspected every three hours of flying time—
    In case of an enemy engagement, I'm sure our opponent whoever it is - will be more than willing to stop combat so our F-35 can have its engine inspected. What a relief.
    •  At the risk of stating the obvious (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The restrictions on the F-35 are intended to be temporary, until they're confident they understand what happened with the one aircraft, and that it's not a problem that's going to show up on the others. In the meantime, they'll be watching everything while allowing pilots and maintainers to gain more experience with the aircraft, within those restrictions.

      One of the things I suspect people fail to appreciate is how far aircraft design has come. Failure rates for some early jets were pretty appalling - mortality among carrier pilots during the transition years from props to jets would be unacceptable by today's standards going by some of the stuff I've read between the lines for example. (Not that's it's ever all that easy.)

      Take a look at the story of the Vought F7U Cutlass for an example.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 03:57:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As a dedicated pacifist I salute the F-35 (0+ / 0-)

    And it's myriad of problems.

    No one is coming to save us, the future is in our hands.

    by koNko on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 07:50:22 AM PDT

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