JSF hit by serious design problems

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La Hollande et le JSF, un malaise rampant

Nous présentons un article qui illustre ce que nous désignerions comme un malaise rampant qui continue à accompagner en Hollande le développement du programme JSF aux USA. La Hollande est un des importants partenaires européens du JSF, et un pays dont les dirigeants ont toujours suivi une politique impeccablement atlantiste. Ce “malaise rampant” dont nous parlons est d’autant plus significatif.

L’auteur de l’article est un journaliste indépendant, Johan Boeder, et son article est accessible originellement sur le site nieuwsbank.nl. L’intitulé complet de l’article est: JSF hit by serious design problems – Prototype grounded since May after emergency landing. Johan Boeder est propriétaire et directeur de la compagnie de software Bever (voyez www.beveraut.nl).

On notera également, à la suite de l’article lui-même, diverses références, soit sur l’article de l’auteur lui-même, soit sur des articles parus dans la presse hollandaise, concernant une intervention au Parlement hollandais à propos du JSF. Cet ensemble de publication illustre la poursuite de l’intérêt de la presse pour la question du JSF.

• L’auteur se présente lui-même, avec son article: «Johan Boeder started publishing about aviation in 1977 as a freelance author at the Dutch newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad. Later he was involved in publications and reports about the fatal crash of a Belgian C130 Hercules at Eindhoven airport (1996). His publications (June 1997) were helpfull to support the Dutch Hercules Ramp Society in triggering the Dutch parliament to give renewed attention to what caused this crash. Publications about this subject in which he was involved were published in Telegraaf (13 February 1998) and Reformatorisch Dagblad (21 June 1997). His publications and reports are characterized by high quality research and analytical aspects. His professional career is in technical software development with a specialisation in vehicle/machine construction, development and maintenance.»

• Boeder présente l’article lui-même avec la note suivante : «The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program continues to pursue a risky program and acquisition strategy in terms of costs and delays in delivery. As an independent, Dutch freelance aviation publicist, but also involved civilian and taxpayer, I wrote this article. Because the people and politicians in our Western democracies have the right the know, how the JSF may influence their governmental budgets and national defense.»

JSF hit by serious design problems

Prototype grounded since May after emergency landing

By Johan Boeder, Kesternen (Holland), 20 November 2007

During the 19th test flight on May 3, 2007 of the prototype of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) a serious electrical malfunction occurred in the control of the plane. After an emergency landing the malfunction could be identified as a crucial problem and redesign of critical electronic components is necessary. First producer Lockheed Martin and officials announced there was a minor problem, later on they avoided any publicity about the problems. But serious delay, and again rising costs for the J.S.F. seem to be certain. In Holland the Parliament started a discussion again this week.

On December 15, 2006 the experienced Lockheed Martin chief test pilot Jon Beesley takes off for the first time with the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), also known as F35 Lighting II. The coming years, some 3000 Joint Strike Fighters are scheduled to be delivered to replace the F16 and Harrier fighters in the airforce and navy of the USA and the airforces of several European countries. In most cases contenders are Eurofighter, Rafale, Gripen and JSF. However, the new fighter must be available in 2014 ultimately, when the F16 will be in the end-of-life stage. Any further delay brings high maintenance costs and too low operational availability.

After a series of seven quite successful flights, the test flight program stops in February 2007 due to fixing some minor problems in the JSF flight control software. It is not unusual in this stage of a test flight program. In March the JSF returns to flight status and takes off for the first supersonic (faster than the sound of speed) flight. At the end of April the JSF prototype AA-1 takes off several times a week. But then, destiny strikes. On May 3, 2007 with the second test pilot Jeff Knowles at the stick, a serious malfunction hits the JSF. At 38.000 feet (12 km) flight level and with a speed of some 800 km/hr the plane executed a planned, 360-degree roll but experienced power loss in the electrical system about halfway through the manoeuvre. In an emergency procedure power is restored and Jeff Knowles regains control of the plane. The pilot cuts short this 19th test flight and an emergency landing is made on airbase Fort Worth. Due to control problems with right wing flaperons the JSF has to make a landing with an exceptional high speed of 220 knots (350 km/hr). Undercarriage, brakes and tyres are damaged. Surrounded by emergency vehicles the plane is stopped and is towed away. Several eyewitnesses take pictures of the emergency landing. Lockheed Martin technicians identify a component in the 270-power supply as the culprit in the near-accident. The JSF's new ''revolutionary'' technology includes new electro-hydrostatic actuators for the flight control system, to replace more conventional hydraulic systems. After some weeks evaluations learn, that there are serious design problems in this new electrical system. Expensive redesign will be necessary.

“No serious problem”

Normally whenever the JSF takes an itty-bitty baby step, the manufacturer reports it to the media for PR purposes. First engine run? Reported. Roll-out? Reported. First flight? Reported. First Wheel-up flight? Reported. But “first emergency landing”? Not reported. Only after two weeks, on May 17, 2007 chief test pilot Beesley comments in a short press bulletin: “It was not a serious problem and the pilot never lost control of the airplane”. Company officials say they don't expect any delays in the flight-test program as a result of the incident, and repairs will be combined with some regular, planned maintenance. Plans call for the fighter to return to flight status in June.

However, on July 10, 2007 Flight International announces disturbing news. Now Lockheed Martin official Bobby Williams explains that there is a serious design problem in the aircraft's electrical system. The fault was caused by a shortcoming in the 270 volt system, when a lead inside a box touched the lid. A complete review of close-tolerance spacing and all electrical boxes is necessary. But, don't worry, Bobby Williams tells Flight International: “We will be back into flight in August”.

Another shocking fact is discovered via a military employee from one of the European airforces, who works within the JSF project team, and is a liaison person for several airforces. He tells that flying in 2012 with the JSF may be safe and the JSF can be used as a plane to fly around. But, the several software modules for weapons system integration (quite important for a fighter) will not be ready. Ground attack capability is made a priority, so primarily the JSF is a ‘bombtruck’. Air superiority capabilities will be restricted, and completed only after 2015. This means that full multi-role capability is possible at earliest in 2016, on condition that no problems occur in development and testing of the (weapon) systems software. So, will there be JSF's on European airbases without complete air superiority capability in 2016? An awesome thought in the light of the intensifying scrambling from UK and Norway since Russian Tupolev Bears have been entering air space near Norway again since 2006.

Manufacturer wants to alter JSF testing to save money

In an article that Bloomberg News publishes on August 31, 2007 it is announced that Lockheed Martin is exceeding the budget on the first phase of the Joint Strike Fighter program. The manufacturer warnes that the reserves will be spent by the end of 2008, unless cuts ere made. Lockheed is seeking US Defense Department approval to lessen the number of test aircraft and personal plus hundreds of test flights to save money and replenish a reserve fund. It wants to build two prototypes less and skip 800 of the 5.000 planned testflights. This after only 18 successful and 1 almost fatal testflight in half a year time. Officialy now, Lockheed Martin says the reason for the rising deficit is: “the costs spent on redesigning a critical electronic part that failed during a May test flight”. Redesign of something as crucial as control systems in this stage of such a complex project has to alert anywhere and anytime all involved partners and governments. The overall program is now projected to cost US$ 299 billion, 28 percent more than its estimate of US$ 233 billion when it started in October 2001. The number of JSF fighters to be produced, originally estimated at over 3.500 will not be higher than 2.300. Some US sources even speak about an estimated 1.700.

Australia has decided to postpone the purchase of the JSF and decided to buy the more traditional, but advanced and reliable Super Hornet F18, to avoid any risks in their air defence. Some NATO countries, amongst them Norway and Denmark are considering other options. One European candidate is the advanced, but expensive to use, twin engined Eurofighter, already in use with the UK, Spain, Germany and Italy. Another European candidate is the new Saab Super Gripen, an advanced version of the proven Saab Gripen concept, already operational in Sweden and NATO countries Czechia and Hungary. Both planes have the same advanced electronics as the JSF and are multirole, but without the development risks of the JSF. Saab Gripen offers a price pro flighthour less than 60% of the JSF or Eurofighter.

Engine problems

Not only those challenging problems will cause delay. Because the JSF naval variant F35C's power generator was mistakenly designed to only 65% of the required electric output, it is necessary to redesign the gearbox of the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine of the airforce's variant. In a quite mysteriously ominous contract, announced by the US Secretary of Defense in August 2007 can be read that this engine update will be ready for use not before the end of 2009.

And, although it seemed probable that last October the JSF would fly again, a new problem arose. During a test run of the F135 engine, part of the engine was blown up by overheating. On November 14, 2007 an eyewitness made pictures of the transportation of a new F135 engine. But a date for test flight number 20 (of the scheduled 5.000 test flights) is still unknown.

Questions in Dutch parliament

Each fact that indicates the development of a potential new debacle is kept out of publicity by the manufacturer and all involved industrial and governmental partners. As predicted for long by several critical politicians and governmental organisations, like the US Government Accountability Office a new debacle is growing, like with other US aviation projects such as the MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and recent serious problems with the F22 Raptor fighter. Up to now the manufacturer succeeded in keeping politicians, the public and (most of) the press unaware of the very serious fact that since May 3, 2007 the flight test program has been stopped completely. This main threat to the Joint Strike Fighter program, in terms of growing costs and risks for planned delivery had to be made public for long already. In the Dutch parliament the Secretary of Defence was questioned on Monday 19 November when the facts about the JSF delay and rising costs were published in several Dutch newspapers on Sunday.


Publication in Holland

This article has been published in the Dutch press : Monday Nov.19, 2007: Secretary of Defence being questioned by Parliament (Tweede Kamer)

Nieuwsbank Telegraaf , Leidsch Dagblad, Nu.nl, Luchtvaartnieuws, Algemeen Dagblad, Spits, Nieuws.nl, BNR nieuws radio.

References for this publication

(1) Flight International, May 2007 by Craig Hoyle. Title: Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter recovers from in-flight power failure

(2) Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, May 17, 2007 by David A. Fulghum. Title: Power Failure Cuts F-35 Test Flight Short

(3) Reports of eye witnesses May 3, 2007 Fort Worth on aviation spotting forums, see : www.fencecheck.com/forums/index.php/topic,689.msg140204.html#msg140204 and www.f-16.net/index.php?name=PNphpBB2&file=viewtopic&t=8137

(4) The near-accident has been caused by the new electro-hydrostatic actuators (EHAs). Remarkably, in April 2007, the chief test pilot Jon Beesley told Code One Magazin that the EHAs were production versions, and that testing could be restricted to the AA-1.

Text in Code One Magazin:

“The electro-hydrostatic actuators, or EHAs, are another excellent example of risk reduction we're accomplishing on AA-1. This is the first real electric jet. The flight control actuators, while they have internal closed-loop hydraulic systems, are controlled and driven by electricity--not hydraulics. The F-35 is the only military aircraft flying with such a system. We proved that the approach works on six flights of the AFTI F-16 during the concept demonstration phase of the JSF program. We already have many more flights on EHAs on this test program. Because we are flying production versions of the EHAs on AA-1, we won't have to prove the EHA design on subsequent F-35s” (Author: Eric Hehs is the editor of Code One).

(5) Flight International, July 2007 by Graham Warwick. Title: JSF to fly following electrical system review

(6) Star Telegram (local) Fort Worth, August 31, 2007

by Tony Capaccio Bloomberg News. Title: Lockheed Martin wants to alter JSF testing to save money

(7) Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, Aug. 24, 2007 by Amy Butler. Title: JSF Stakeholders Plan Collective International Buy

(8) Sydney Morning Herald, Aug 22, 2007. Released by AAP

Title: Joint-Strike-Fighter-a-tough-task. Contents: JSF challenges similar to competing in an ironman triathlon


(9) Flight International, Aug 24, 2007 by Stephen Trimble

Title: Lockheed tackles JSF power deficit

(10) About problems with gearbox of Pratt & Whitney F135 engine (power supply F-35C version) this contract text can be found:

Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs).

For release at August 17, 2007. Publication No. 1015-07

United Technologies Corp., Pratt and Whitney, Military Engines, East Hartford, Conn., is being awarded a $71,503,988 modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-02-C-3003) for the procurement of F-135 gearbox redesign and re-qualification, and delivery of nine redesigned gearboxes. The gearboxes will be incorporated into F-135 flight test engines being delivered to Lockheed Martin for the F-35 flight test aircraft. Work will be performed in East Hartford, Conn., and is expected to be completed in December 2009. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md. is the contracting activity.

(11) Star Telegram (local) Fort Worth, October 8, 2007, by Bob Cox

Title: Lockheed waits to put F-35 to the test again

(12) Witness report of someone ''near'' Lockheed Martin, Fort Worth:

''Latest word is that they are awaiting a proof test of the F135 engine because the powerplant experienced a third stage low pressure turbine blade cracking on the test stand in October. They will proof test the FTE-3 engine and if it passes -- which they expect it to -- flight testing will resume before thanks giving using this engine. The F135 engine runs the highest turbine inlet temperature of any jet engine in the history of aviation -- a whopping 3600 degrees where most fighter engines operate in the 2600 to 2800 degrees range.

The flight control issues have long since been addressed in September; thats not what's holding things up. The AA-1 has out and about been doing ground runs using FTE-1 since October.''

Confirmed with a picture on November 14, 2007 from Keith Robinson, local aviation spotter in Fort Worth

(13) Flight International, Vol 172 Nr. 5105 Sep 24, 2007 by Graham Warwick. Title: JSF flight test changes planned

(14) FlightGlobal.com, Sep 11, 2007. Pratt & Whitney checks F35 JSF engine after test anomaly

(15) Flight International, Nov 16,. 2007 by Graham Warwick

Title: Lockheed Martin F35 JSF facing funding and ramp-up challenges

(16) US Government Accountability Office; March 15, 2007

Title: #GAO-07-370; Latest report covering the JSF / F35 development PDF format

It reports:

“Accurately predicting JSF costs and schedule and ensuring sufficient funding will likely be key challenges facing the program in the future. JSF continues to pursue a risky acquisition strategy that concurrently develops and produces aircraft. While some concurrency may be beneficial to efficiently transition from development to production, the degree of overlap is significant on this program. Any changes in design and manufacturing that require modifications to delivered aircraft or to tooling and manufacturing processes would result in increased costs and delays in getting capabilities to the warfighter. Low-rate initial production will begin this year with almost the entire 7-year flight test program remaining to confirm the aircraft design.”

And :

“Total JSF program acquisition costs (through 2027) have increased by $31.6 billion and now DOD will pay 12 percent more per aircraft than expected in 2004. The program has also experienced delays in several key events, including the start of the flight test program, delivery of the first production representative development aircraft, and testing of critical missions systems.... Despite these delays, the program still plans to complete development in 2013, compressing the amount of time available for flight testing and development activies”.

For further information, please contact:

Johan Boeder, Kesteren, Netherlands

E-mail : jobo at beveraut.nl (preferred for requests for calling you for personal contact; checked frequently)


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