US Air Force grounds F-35 fleet over ejection seat worries

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The US Air Force has grounded its fleet of F-35 jets temporarily, citing a potentially faulty component in the ejection seat that could endanger pilots in an emergency, a problem also grounding other types of military planes that are used in training.

The issue involves the explosive cartridges used inside ejection seats to help propel the seat from the plane during an emergency, Alexi Worley, spokeswoman for the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, said in a statement Friday.

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The affected aircraft have ejection seats made by Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd., Worley said. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“On July 19, we began a Time Compliance Technical Directive to inspect all of the cartridges on the ejection seat within 90 days, Worley said in the statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, she said Air Combat Command units “will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process.” Based on data gathered from those inspections, ACC will make a determination to resume operations.

It’s the latest development in a problem found across military services and across different types of planes that have the ejection seats. The Air Force on Thursday decided to ground almost 300 training aircraft over the issue.

The Navy and Marine Corps have also sidelined some of their fixed-wing aircraft. The groundings were reported earlier by Breaking Defense and Air Force Times.

Only aircraft equipped with cartridges “within a limited range of lot numbers are affected,” the Navy said in a statement this week. The cartridges will be replaced at the aircraft’s assigned squadron and the aircraft will be inspected before its next flight, the service said.

So far, 820 F-35s built by Lockheed Martin Corp. have been delivered worldwide out of a potential 3,000 for the US and partner nations. The Air Force is the largest F-35 customer, with 348 of its planned 1,763 planes now in its inventory.

After years of talks, the Pentagon announced earlier this month that it reached preliminary agreement with Lockheed on the next three-year contract for 375 more of the advanced fighters. That contract could be worth about $30 billion, according to a defense official familiar with the negotiations.

The Government Accountability Office earlier this year said that F-35 readiness rates for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have improved since 2019 but still fall short of program goals.

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