A lot is known about the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, but many of its details will remain very much shrouded in mystery. This week the action to correct hardware issues that contributed to the crash of a single-engine F-35A Lightning II that was part of the 58th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing in May will remain a secret. The F-35 Joint Program Office announced the decision on Monday.
“Explicit details related to corrective actions have the potential to compromise operational security,” a JPO spokeswoman told Air Force magazine, without elaborating.
What the JPO did confirm is that it participates in accident investigations and works to identify “corrective actions and evaluates, prioritizes and incorporates those actions into aircraft maintenance and production procedures.” The “safety of the flights” also remains the highest priority “in the adjudication of corrective actions” for the fifth-generation advanced stealth fighter aircraft.
The JPO offices also noted that there are now 585 F-35s in service around the world, and those aircraft have accumulated more than 335,000 safe flying hours. The Lockheed Martin-built fighter is also safe to fly while the JPO determines and implements corrective measures.
In addition to the necessary corrections to the aircraft’s “secret sauce,” what isn’t known is who will bear the responsibility for any hardware deficiencies or who will pay to correct those issues. As Air Force magazine also reported, it would be somewhat unusual for the U.S. government not to reveal the correct measures required when a military aircraft crashes due to hardware and software deficiencies, even if just in part.
What is known, based on the accident investigation board (AIB) report, which was released early last month, is that the F-35 crashed in May mainly because the pilot had incorrectly set a “speed hold” that was too high during the landing process. However, a number of other issues with the Joint Strike Fighter have been identified by the AIB that may have contributed to the crash. Those included issues with the helmet-mounted display, the jet’s oxygen system and even ineffective simulator training, which differed from what would be experienced by the pilot in similar conditions.
Other problems included a delayed response to the pilot’s commands to raise the nose, as well as flight control software that reportedly overrode those commands. The mishap pilot, along with other pilots who have flown the F-35, have also reported that the aircraft’s life support system requires the pilot to work too hard to breathe and that can result in a “cognitive degradation” and lead to fatigue during the mission.
While the F-35 is one of the most advanced fighters in the world, it isn’t reportedly easy to make an instrument landing approach and the life support system could have made the landing “more challenging.” The pilot’s report suggested the jet was physically “draining” to fly has been corroborated by “emerging research,” the AIB found.
“There appears to be a physiological toll taken on the pilot’s cognitive capacities as a result of breathing through the on-demand oxygen system,” the AIB noted.
The JPO declined to comment when the report was released and referred questions back to Air Education and Training Command (AETC), which was the AIB convening authority. AETC has since referred queries back to the JPO as it is responsible for necessary changes to the aircraft’s hardware. It seems that this could just remain another secret of the F-35.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.