The new defense bill provides money for 79 F-35s with Pratt & Whitney engines. Lockheed Martin photo
The F-35 fighter
The F-35 fighter Lockheed Martin photo

Washington — A top Air Force general said problems with the Pratt & Whitney engine on the F-35 advanced fighter have been fixed, and all of the planes will have newly engineered engines by June of next year.

“We are producing fully capable engines on the production line,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan, the head of the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office.

An engine fire last year temporarily grounded the F-35 fleet.  At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday, Bogdan said 61 F-35s have been “retrofitted” to eliminate the problem that caused the fire, and new airplanes have retooled engines.

Bogdan said the problem stemmed from the belief that Pratt’s F-135 engine would perform in the F-35 as it would in other aircraft.

“Some assumed the engine would react as if it were in another airplane,” Bogdan said. “We are not going to make that mistake again. Pratt & Whitney has learned that lesson.”

To Bogdan the engine problem “was unfortunate, but we are putting it behind us.”

But problems remain in the controversial F-35 program, which has been plagued by malfunctions, massive cost overruns and delays.

The latest problem was discussed at  the hearing: It was discovered that pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds might not eject properly from the plane in an emergency.

Bogdan said all pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds have been barred from flying an F-35 until the problem with the ejection seat is fixed.

The Pentagon planned to spend $391.1 billion for a fleet of 2,443 planes from prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. and Pratt & Whitney, the sole producer of the F-35’s engine. But some lawmakers say the number of planes purchased by the Pentagon may have to be scaled back because of budget constraints.

The plane got a boost over the summer when the Marine Corps declared that its version of the advanced fighter jet, the F-35B, which can land vertically like a helicopter, is ready for combat.

A recent test by the Navy off an aircraft carrier also went well.

But another report determined the F-35 is not as maneuverable as the plane it is intended to replace, the F-16.

Skeptical lawmakers asked Bogdan if development of the F-35 will ever go as intended.

“A lot of mistakes have been made and there’s been a lot of of money wasted,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. “Should we be devoting resources to the next generation of fighter instead.”

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., said the rollout of the F-35 program “has been a painful process, and that’s a nice word for it.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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