The US Air Force’s (USAF) ‘most advanced’ F-35 stealth fighters have been plagued by engine troubles. To make matters worse, there is an acute shortage of engines, forcing the USAF to revise its 2021 aerial demonstration schedules.
As reported earlier by Bloomberg, the aerial demonstration team, which is headquartered at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, had cut eight shows this year, which were about a third of its total performance schedule.
The decision was taken to “ensure the flying doesn’t aggravate a worsening service-wide shortage of Raytheon Technologies Corp. engines”.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35s are the most sought-after fighter jets on the planet. The 18-minute long performance flights have been designed to showcase the F-35’s capabilities, including its speed, agility, and high g-turning.
Defense officials were quoted by Bloomberg as saying the engines F-35 fighters were edging towards the “limits of their design” as overheating causes premature cracks in them.
The engines of the stealthy fighter jets were reported to be “removed or repaired earlier than anticipated, aggravating an already backlogged depot system.”
The Bloomberg report said quoting officials of the F-35 program that in the worst-case scenario, up to 20 percent of US Air Force’s F-35 could face a shortage of engines by 2025.
Earlier, the demo team had announced around 24 shows that were scheduled for this year. However, on February 11, a decision was taken to revise the schedule.
On its website, the schedule was replaced by a message from the group, which stated, “Our 2021 performance schedule is currently being updated … a new schedule will be published here as soon as it is finalized.”
Around 78 Lockheed F-35 stealth fighters are owned and operated by the active-duty fighter wing along with its reserve counterpart, the 419th Fighter Wing.
Despite the engine troubles, the wing issued a statement to clarify that the problems had not hampered real-world combat operations.
The wing had reportedly completed three combat deployments of F-35s in the Middle East since the second half of the year 2019.
“We in the 388th Fighter Wing, like the rest of the F-35A community, have been working through some challenging engine sustainment issues,”
“However, the hard work of our maintainers has enabled us to safely and consistently meet our operational requirements, including three recent combat deployments. We are confident in the F-35’s ability to execute its primary combat mission,” said the statement.
The Air Combat Command, which is the primary provider of combat forces to the US Air Force, has been working with the F-35 Joint Program Office to find a solution for the engine sustainment.
The schedule of the aerial demonstration team is likely to be scaled back “until the sustainment challenges can be further addressed”, as per the statement.
Last year, the demo team had to cancel a number of shows owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.