F-35 inspections have found no other cracks

Posted Friday, Mar. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The Pentagon's F-35 program office hasn't discovered additional engine blade cracks in its fleet of test and operational jets so far, a spokeswoman said.

On Friday, the Pentagon said it had suspended all flights of Lockheed Martin's F-35, which is being built in Fort Worth, after a routine engine inspection revealed a crack on a turbine blade in a test aircraft engine at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The entire test fleet -- 17 aircraft based in Maryland and California -- has been inspected, and no additional cracks have been discovered, said Kyra Hawn, a spokeswoman for the F-35 program. These planes are flown the hardest, pushed by pilots to the most stressing flight profiles.

The 34 operational aircraft used in pilot and tactics training in Florida and Arizona are still being inspected, Hawn said in an emailed statement.

The blade in question was in an engine made by United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney unit that was "subjected to more flight hours and wear than aircraft of comparable age," Hawn said. "It has operated at the extremes of engine temperature and tolerances."

Pratt & Whitney has completed vibration, airflow and X-ray examinations on the cracked blade, she said. So-called destructive tests designed to examine the blade's surfaces started Wednesday, she said. All test and inspection data should be completed, analyzed and presented no later than Friday, Hawn said.

The Marine Corps version of the F-35 was grounded last month after a pilot aborted a takeoff because of an unrelated flaw in the propulsion system. Those planes resumed flying this month after the problem was traced to an improperly crimped fluid hose.

The cracked turbine blade was the latest in a series of problems encountered by the F-35, which has gone far over budget. It's now estimated that the U.S. could spend up to $395 billion for the planes, up 70 percent since 2001.

This week, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the top defense official overseeing the program, berated Lockheed and Pratt & Whitney at an Australian air show, saying the companies are trying to "squeeze every nickel" out of the Pentagon and should be doing more to cut costs.

"What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney doing today is behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine," Bogdan told reporters, according to Reuters.

"I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship," Bogdan said. "I'm not getting all that love yet."

Matthew Bates, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, and Michael Rein, a Lockheed spokesman, said late Wednesday that they were preparing statements in response to Bogdan's remarks.

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