The F-35 Lightning II has been described as “revolutionary”, capabilities include advanced electronic warfare for enemy tracking, exceptional data capture using integrated sensors, and unparalleled stealth to avoid detection by enemy radar (just to name a few). Shortly after release, fifteen F-35 aircraft were grounded and production put on hold.
Many supporters of the project believe that this could not have happened at a worse time. The F-35 has already been under scrutiny due to production delays amounting to over three years. Many of these delays were attributed to software and hardware malfunctions.
Analysis of the aircraft determined that the issue was caused by faulty cooling lines. The line material was found to be peeling and crumbling. It was ruled as an issue with the supplier versus the manufacturer. The debris from the cooling lines traveled to the fuel tanks. The manufacturer determined that 57 aircraft contained the faulty fuel lines, many that were still in production.
Lockheed Martin quickly worked to repair the 10 aircraft in the field and made modifications to the aircraft still in production. Repairs were made using a minimally invasive process that involved cutting small holes into each wing. Using these access points, maintenance workers removed insulation debris and replaced the coolant tube coating. Screens were then placed inside the wings to prevent any future clogging by debris.
While any kind of maintenance or repair work takes time, the turnaround on these aircraft has been very brief. The modification to aircraft in production has been minimal because of the way that it has been incorporated into regular manufacturing. The modification is not disruptive to the overall production process because it is performed during work on that section of the aircraft.
Although this issue does add to the overall time of the “combat readiness” of the F-35, it was a necessary fix. Lockheed Martin responded very quickly, created a plan that minimized down time, and communicated through multiple phases of the issue. The response generated a more positive response to the FOD news. Many other companies should consider recovery plans like this is they run into any issues with FOD.