US Marine Corps pilot Maj. N.H. “Robo” Thayer takes off in his F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, departing Naval Air Facility El Centro in California on Feb. 26, 2021. On Jan. 4, 2023, the Pentagon announced it was suspending deliveries of the F-35's jet engines, pending an ongoing probe into what caused a plane to crash in Texas. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Drew Verbis.
In the wake of last month’s F-35B crash in Texas, the Pentagon is halting all deliveries of the Pratt & Whitney jet engines that power the stealthy strike fighters.
”The F-35 Joint Program Office and Pratt & Whitney have agreed to delay scheduled delivery and acceptance of F135 engines until further information from the investigation is known and safety of flight can be ensured,” said Russell “Russ” Goemaere, the program office’s spokesperson, in an email to Coffee or Die Magazine.
Pratt & Whitney officials told Coffee or Die they were limited in what they could say while an investigation into the Dec. 15 mishap by Naval Air Systems Command, better known as NAVAIR, continues.
"There has been no formal suspension of F135 deliveries and we are working closely with the Joint Program Office on all aspects of the ongoing investigation and timing of deliveries," said Jen Latka, vice president of F135 programs at Pratt & Whitney, in an email to Coffee or Die on Wednesday. "The F135 has more than 600,000 flight hours. Safety for the warfighter is and will continue to be our number one priority."
The F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter that crashed around 10:15 a.m. on Dec. 15, 2022, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas was undergoing the acceptance process, part of its transfer from manufacturer Lockheed Martin to the US Marine Corps. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
Officials at multiple federal agencies told Coffee or Die a US Air Force pilot on loan to the Defense Contract Management Agency ejected from an F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter during a vertical landing at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth.
Bystander video footage of the crash captured the Joint Strike Fighter descending from roughly three stories in a brief journey to the tarmac. Then the aircraft appeared to hop.
The jet’s nose careened into the flightline, scraping the pavement for a few seconds while slowly rotating.
About 26 seconds into the reel, the unnamed pilot ejects from the cockpit. His parachute pops, and then he hits the ground hard.
Officials told Coffee or Die he wasn’t injured.
There are three types of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters: F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C. Here, an F-35C from the "Black Knights" of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 sits beside an F-35A from Number 3 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Nov. 28, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Levi Voss.
The base where the crash occurred abuts the sprawling Lockheed Martin assembly plant for the F-35 fighters, which come in three different variants for the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.
The $100 million F-35B that crashed in Texas was built for the Marines. It’s designed to operate from amphibious ships and austere operating bases.
That’s why it’s capable of short-distance takeoffs and vertical landings, like the one the unnamed Air Force major was trying to perform.
Despite the federal hold on engine procurement, Lockheed Martin will continue to manufacture F-35s.
An F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from the "Flying Leathernecks" of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship Makin Island in the Pacific Ocean on July 29, 2020. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Aaron Sperle.
On Dec. 30, officials at the Pentagon and the defense contractor announced a $30 billion deal to deliver up to 398 more of the strike fighters, including aircraft for Belgium, Finland, and Poland.
"The F-35 delivers unsurpassed capability to our warfighters and operational commanders," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt, the commander of the F-35 Joint Program Office, in a prepared statement. "This contract strikes the right balance between what's best for the U.S. taxpayers, military services, allies and our foreign military sales customers. The F-35 is the world's premier multi-mission, 5th-generation weapon system, and the modernized Block 4 capabilities these new aircraft will bring to bear strengthens not just capability, but interoperability with our allies and partners across land, sea, air and cyber domains."
Editor's note: This story was updated on Jan. 5, 2023, to include an official statement from Pratt & Whitney.
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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