Pentagon Issues Grounding of F-35 Fleet in Response to South Carolina Crash: 80 Percent of Jets Cleared Following Fuel Tube Inspection

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Thursday October 18, 2018


The Pentagon announced on Oct. 11 that all F-35 fleets worldwide were being grounded following an F-35B crash last month in South Carolina, but the move has had little impact on the fighter jet program overall.

The pilot survived the crash near the Marine Corps Air Station in Beauford, S.C. on Sept. 28 after being ejected from the aircraft, but the occurrence triggered a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine.

The inspections were swift, expected to be completed within 24 to 48 hours after the F-35 Joint Program Office released its statement. Those with suspect or faulty fuel tubes would receive replacements, and those with properly-functioning fuel tubes would return to the air.

As of Monday, Oct. 15, more than 80 percent of the military fighter jets had been cleared to fly. Altogether, there are over 240 F-35s among the Air Force, Marines, and the Navy.

When asked about the grounding, Vermont Army National Guard State Public Affairs Officer 1st Lt. Mikel R. Arcovitch provided The Other Paper with this statement:

“The recent crash in South Carolina was unfortunate, but we were glad to see the pilot ejected safely and that no one was hurt,” Arcovitch said. “The crash led to an enterprise-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft. After completing inspections, more than 80 percent of operational F-35s have been cleared and returned to flight operations. There are 45 enlisted maintenance and logistics Airmen, as well as four pilots from Vermont, who will continue training on the F-35, at locations across the country, until their training is complete. Two more pilots are reporting to transition school this month. This incident has no impact on the timeline of the arrival of the F-35 to Vermont.”

There are 18 F-35A fighter jets planned to arrive at the Vermont Air National Guard in fall 2019 to replace the current F-16s. Vermont will be one of three operational bases with the fewest F-35s as part of the F-35A Bedddown Plan. Hill Air Force Base in Utah will have 72 jets, and Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska will have 48. There are also two training bases at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, as well as two test bases at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Col. Daniel Finnegan said earlier this year at a press conference in March that airmen will each accrue an estimated 150 hours of F-35 flight time per year. Finnegan also shared information about the F-35’s flight hours and operational experience at 14 bases around the world.

The F-35 program is the most expensive in Pentagon history, ringing in at over $1 trillion to operate and sustain it, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office last year.

At Burlington International Airport, the dollars are being invested in the infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the F-35s.

The F-35 has been a controversial topic since it was originally considered as a beddown location in 2012. In December 2013, the Department of Defense marked its decision for the basing, and proponents and opponents have been ferociously voicing their sides of the table ever since.

In 2014, a lawsuit was filed against then Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James by opposing Vermont residents and the Stop the F-35 Coalition that listed a wide range of concerns, including decreased property values, health risks, effects on historic properties, and low probability but catastrophic consequences in the event of a crash. The plaintiffs lost the lawsuit in 2016. During Town Meeting Day this year, Burlington residents voted “yes” on an advisory ballot item requesting the Burlington City Council call for the cancelling of the basing or selecting a different type of plane for the Vermont Air National Guard.

Proponents push that that the F-35’s give the guard a new mission and will continue to be an economic driver in the community employing over 1,000 jobs with nearly half of them full-time. The 158th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard has been based in Burlington since 1946.

As part of its lease with the airport, the Vermont Air National Guard also provides fire, crash, and rescue services to the civilian operation, an estimated nearly $3 million yearly service, according to Gene Richards, director of aviation at the Burlington International Airport.

In terms of planning, an airport Sound Mitigation Committee and Noise Compatibility Program Task Force — two groups comprised of most of the same representatives from the airport, Guard, Army National Guard, and affected municipalities — are awaiting the results from newly-updated Noise Exposure Maps with projected F-35 data scheduled to be revealed in early December.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent