Air Force investigation of F-35 fire includes engine

The F-35A stealth fighter.

Lockheed Martin photo

The F-35A stealth fighter.

Washington – The Air Force is investigating a fire that grounded an F-35 during a training mission in Idaho, and hasn’t ruled out problems with a Pratt & Whitney-made engine, although there is not evidence of that yet.

Lt. Col. Matt Hasson, spokesman for Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, said seven F-35 aircraft flew from his base to Mountain Home Air Force Base for training missions, but one could not return on Friday because it caught fire and was grounded.

He said the fire was in the “aft portion,” or rear area, of the fighter jet and no one was hurt.

Hasson also said the cause of the fire is unknown, although some media have called it an engine fire. All of the F-35 engines are made by Pratt & Whitney.

“Everybody is calling it an engine fire, I don’t know why,” Hasson said. “We haven’t determined it was an engine fire. It could be, but we haven’t determined that.”

The investigation into the fire could take up to two weeks to determine its cause.

Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said his company is “aware of an incident involving an F-35A jet from Luke Air Force Base operating at Mountain Home Air Force Base, but we do not have any further details at this time. We are ready to assist the U.S. Air Force and the F-35 Joint Program Office in their investigation.”

In July 2014, the Pentagon temporarily grounded its fleet of F-35s after an engine fire broke out while an F-35 was preparing to take off on a training mission at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Investigators determined there was a problem with the rotor in the F-135 Pratt & Whitney engine that caused the fire.

Pratt & Whitney corrected the problem, retrofitting all F-35s with the fix.

Unlike the fire in Florida, the most recent F-35 fire is being investigated “locally,” Hasson said, and no planes have been grounded.

However, 15 F-35s were grounded recently because the insulation on their fuel lines was getting into the plane’s fuel tanks.

Production of the F-35 engine – as well as Pratt & Whitney’s contract to build the engine for the “Raider,” the  Air Force’s new B-21 long range bomber – is figured into the company’s plans to hire 25,000 new employees in the next decade, about 8,000 in Connecticut.

Although most of those new jobs will replace about 18,000 expected retirements, the company has forecast growth based on a backlog of engines.

About 25 percent of the production in the United States will be for engines for the F-35 and the Raider, the company said.

Earlier this year, Pratt & Whitney signed two contracts with the Pentagon worth more than $3 billion for the delivery 66 engines in 2017 and 99 engines in 2018.

Pratt & Whitney also has orders for more than 8,200 Geared Turbofan engines from its commercial engines business.