Seven weeks after the Air Force declared its first F-35 jets combat ready, 10 of the aircraft aren't flying after service mechanics discovered "peeling and crumbling" insulation wrapped around lines that carry liquid to cool combat systems and computers.
The poor insulation is suspected on 57 aircraft, including 42 on Lockheed Martin Corp.'s production line. The issue is not a design flaw with the aircraft but instead caused by manufacturing quality glitches with one of two subcontractors which make the 18 lines through which the coolant flows, according to an Air Force statement and an interview with a service official, who asked not to be identified.
If not fixed, the crumbling insulation could become lodged in the lines connecting the aircraft's wing and fuselage fuel tanks causing potential over-pressure or under-pressure that "may cause structural damage to the fuel tanks," according to a statement sent Friday to House and Senate defense committees.
"The issue was discovered during depot modification" of an Air Force jet and has resulted this month in a "temporary pause in flight operations," according to a separate statement from the service. Ten of the 15 aircraft not flying are located at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, home of the service's first combat-ready squadron. The other five aircraft don't have the flawed insulation and continue to fly regular sorties, the office said. Two aircraft delivered for Norway are also not flying, said the official.