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JSF STOVL Woes Strike Pax River

UPDATED: Ash Carter Says LockMar Should Share Costs To Bring Program Back on Track. LockMar Says Plane Back To Flight Dec. 7.

A troublesome fuel shutoff valve. The engine inlet rake needs replacement.

Those are among the latest reported problems with the Joint Strike Fighter program, specifically with the STOVL version that just arrived at Patuxent River.

Here are the details of what we heard from Pax River. There was a fuel problem Tuesday at Patuxent. They found a problem with a fuel shutoff valve. They decided the aircraft cannot fly with this and need to change the valve. That requires engine removal.

The engine inlet rake is also “problematic,” our source said, and they needed to fix it for STOVL flight testing. They plan to fix the inlet rake while removing the engine to replace the fuel shutoff valve. This may take 10 to 12 days.

A congressional aide, told of the issues, checked on them: "All true apparently , except the "inlet rake" was a pre-planned remove/replace as it has a finite "service life", when they had to R/R the engine. Since the rake was going to stop them before they could finish all 14 flights to VL, they decided to do it concurrent with the engine R/R--at least, that is the story."

The upshot is that "this is pretty typical of flight test. Nothing about this is a 'tester screw up,' supposedly," the aide said in an email.

However, a close observer of the program begged to differ, saying these problems are emblematic of the program's much slower pace through testing than planned. "[Ash] Carter [head of Pentagon acquisition] is pretending he can accelerate these test flights; the airplanes cannot hack it at this point."

Lockheed Martin spokesman Chris Geisel said the F-35 BF-1 is "undergoing required maintenance.... During normal ground operations the crew observed a partial malfunction of a component in the fuel system that manages distribution of onboard fuel. Additionally the aircraft will undergo the removal and replacement of the transparency removal system (TRS) detonation cord which is bonded to the canopy. This is a required process driven by the Nov. 25 expiration date of the canopy's detonation-cord material (the detonation cord helps remove the canopy from the pilot's path during an ejection). Maintenance for both is a 10-to-12 day operation. Additionally, maintainers will take advantage of the down-time to perform other maintenance on the jet. Return to flight is planned for the week of Dec. 7."

Meanwhile, Carter told reporters today that F-35 builder Lockheed Martin should help bear the costs of schedule slips.

"We don't want to be in a situation where the government bears the cost of schedule slips in a program all by itself," he said. "It's reasonable that risk in a program be shared -- be shared equitably."

Carter said he was considering adding aircraft to the F-35 testing program to compress its schedule. Another option he was weighing was adding more personnel to speed up completion of the aircraft's mission software, he said. The New York Times reported Saturday that the Pentagon is considering adding $200 million to the program. Carter met Sunday with Robert Stevens, Lockheed's chief executive, and other executives to discuss the program's woes and how best to address them.

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