F-35B grounded by fueldraulic system problem

Almost one year ago today (on Jan. 20, 2012), citing the progress the F-35B STOVL (Short take off vertical landing) variant made in 2011, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded probation for the F-35B, about one year ahead of schedule.

The STOVL had come close to be scrapped after technical issues along with massive cost over runs had put the monumentally complex version at risk.

However, when it looked like it had solved all those problems that had jeopardized its survival, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation fighter plane, found another possibly major issue to face.

On Jan. 18, 2013, Defense News was the first media to spread the news that the DoD office in charge of the F-35 program has grounded the F-35B variant of the Joint Strike Fighter for precautionary reasons after a test flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, was aborted by the pilot as the plane was conducting a conventional takeoff roll.

The temporary flight ban involves all the STOVL aircraft operating at Eglin, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, and Lockheed’s production factory in Fort Worth.

F-35B grounded

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

According to Defense News’s Aaron Mehta the abort was caused by “a failure to a propulsion fueldraulic line, which enables movement in the actuators for the STOVL’s exhaust system.”
Whilst Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce engineers investigate the incident on the P&W engines that have successfully completed almost 25,000 hours of testing, the other two variants (A – conventional, and C – Carrier Variant), are not affected by the grounding.

Along with the U.S. Marine Corps, Italy (both Air Force and Navy) and the UK are going to be equipped with the F-35B. At least, they hope so…:)

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Oh boy, David Axe and Spencer Ackerman are performing their own rendition of “Two Girls, One Cup” over this news.

    • Yeah. It’s a pretty revolutionary deal. Not surprised it’s having some teething problems.

  2. I still am perplexed by the USMC’s insistence on operating STOVL aircraft in general. It seems like such a waste of resources when other branches could be covering their backs in CAS anyway, and let Marines operate on the ground where they belong (ok, give them a few choppers, I guess…). Leave the fancy (expensive!) jets to the pros.

  3. @drumcycles
    Marine doctrine is what drives the Marines to have their own organic air power. Since the days of landing in Nicaragua thru Iraqi Freedom Marine Airpower exists to support Marines on the ground. Marine doctrine requires the Corps to operate as an expeditionary force. The current war in
    Afghanistan will not go on forever and the next conflict might require Marines to operate as the sea-going force that they are.

    The very nature of their operations do not allow them the luxary of having a 10000 ft runway that airplanes can land on or an aircraft carrier. Once they land ashore and press forward they want their airpower operating from FOB, FARPs that can keep pace with manuver warfare- the MAGTF and be on the spot CAS. That mission is the very requirement for a STOVL F-35. If they land on hostile soil and no aiirfield is available for fixed-wing operations having STOVL platform is idea for the mission. In my 22+ years of being involved with tac air I have been very fortunate to meet quite a few “pro’s” who are Marine pilots had they can put warheads on foreheads just as accurately as any other, plus it is the unspoken bond and comfort that there are Marines in the air supporting Marines on the ground.

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