The Air Force is grounding its fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to check for a faulty component that could prevent pilots from safely ejecting.
A spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed Friday’s temporary stand-down order in a statement to DailyMail.com, saying the aircraft are currently being inspected ‘to mitigate safety concerns.’
‘There is a concern with a component used in the pilot ejection system of several aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force,’ the spokesperson said.
At issue are the explosive cartridges inside F-35 ejection seats that blow the pilot clear of the aircraft in an emergency. The Air Force has roughly 300 F-35s, which cost around $78 million apiece for the latest model.
British ejection seat manufacturer Martin-Baker has identified certain production lots of the explosive cartridges in its seats as defective and needing replacement, the Air Force said.
The ejection system component in question is also used T-38 Talons and T-6 Texan IIs, and the Air Force has also taken some of those aircraft out of service for inspection.
The Air Force has grounded its entire fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters due to a faulty ejector seat component. Pictured: An F-35B Lightning II attached to Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1 idles on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli
A Martin-Baker ejection seat for an F-35 Lightning II is seen during upgrades in 2018. The British manufacturer has identified potential issues with the seat’s explosive cartridges
Air Force F-35s use the Martin-Baker ejection seats. Earlier this month, the service began an inspection process to determine whether any of them were impacted by the recall.
‘Out of an abundance of caution, [Air Combat Command] ACC units will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process,’ an ACC spokesman told DailyMail.com in a statement.
‘Based on data gathered from those inspections, ACC will make a determination to resume operations,’ the statement added.
An Air Force spokesperson insisted that: ‘This is a temporary stand down, not a fleet-wide grounding.’
The F-35 stand-down order from Air Combat Command was first reported by Breaking Defense.
The F-35 is not the only US military aircraft affected by the potential ejection seat issues.
Earlier this week, the Air Force grounded its training fleet of T-38 Talons and T-6 Texan IIs to complete a similar inspection process.
The US Department of Defense currently operates about 450 F-35 aircraft, about 300 of which are in use by the Air Force. Pictured: An F-35 is seen at Luke Air Force Base in 2014
F-35 Lighting pilot refuels at Elgin Air Force Base in a file photo
Roughly 300 T-38 and T-6 aircraft operated by Air Education and Training Command were temporarily pulled out of service to check for the potential defect.
‘Each aircraft contains multiple explosive cartridges as part of a redundant system,’ AETC said in a statement.
‘Out of an abundance of caution, 19th Air Force directed that T-38 and T-6 operations be terminated on July 27 while our maintenance and logistics teams further investigated the issue.’
Major General Craig Wills, 19th AF Commander, said in a statement: ‘Our primary concern is the safety of our Airmen and it is imperative that they have confidence in our equipment.’
‘Our actions today were taken out of an abundance of caution in order to ensure the safety of our pilots and aircrew. We will not return aircraft affected by this issue to the flying schedule until we’re confident their escape systems are fully functional,’ added Wills.
‘Our instructor pilots accomplish an incredibly important and demanding mission every day, and we owe them safe and reliable aircraft,’ the general said.
The Air Force’s T-38 Talon (above) is also affected by the potential ejection seat issue
The training fleet of T-6A Texan IIs, like the one seen above, is also undergoing inspection
The F-35 is manufactured in a US partnership with seven allies who also maintain fleets of the aircraft: the United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark and Canada.
Six foreign military sales customers are also procuring and operating the F-35: Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium and Singapore.
The US Department of Defense currently operates about 450 F-35 aircraft, which cost about $78 million apiece for the latest model.
Roughly 300 are the F-35A model operated by the Air Force while the others are variants operated by the Navy and Marines.
It was not immediately clear whether the temporary grounding order on Friday also applied to F-35 aircraft operated by the Navy and Marine Corps.
A spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office was unable to provide immediate comment when reached by DailyMail.com.
A spokesperson for British ejection-seat manufacturer Martin-Baker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.