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Air Force grounds most F-35 fighter jets

The active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings conducted an F-35A Combat Power Exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Jan. 6, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
July 29, 2022

Most U.S. Air Force F-35 Lighting II fighter jets were grounded on Friday over concerns about a potential problem with their ejection seats.

Military officials discovered a potential problem with the Martin-Baker ejection seats featured on the Air Force’s F-35A fighter jets.

Alexi Worley, a spokesperson for the Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC), told American Military News that the command began looking into the F-35 ejection seat concern on July 19.

“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. “Out of an abundance of caution, ACC units will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process.”

Worley did not specify what problem may exist with the ejection seat. She said the stand-down affects “all” of ACC’s F-35 aircraft “with a few exceptions.”

“The stand-down of aircraft will continue through the weekend, and a determination to safely resume normal operations is expected to be made early next week, pending analysis of the inspection data,” Worley added.

The ACC is the primary provider of air combat forces for the U.S. warfighting commands and the largest operator of Air Force F-35s.

Following ACC’s decision, the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command (AETC) also paused F-35 operations.

“Following initial inspections of a small number of F-35 aircraft and discussions with our logistics professionals and Air Combat Command, the AETC commander joined the ACC Commander in directing an operational pause beginning Friday, July 29 to allow our logistics team to further analyze the issue and expedite the inspection process,” AETC spokesperson Cpt. Lauren Woods told American Military News.

“Based on the results of these inspections and in conjunction with ACC, the lead command for F-35, AETC will make a decision regarding continued operations,” Woods added.

As of Sept. 30, 2021, the end of the last fiscal year, the Air Force operated about 302 F-35s, Air Force Magazine reported. As of last year, ACC operated 122 F-35s while the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) operated 115.

Martin-Baker is the manufacturer of the US16E Ejection Seat, and said the seat is used on all F-35 variants.

In 2017, after the Air Force approved the ejection seat for pilots weighing less than 136 pounds, Martin-Baker CEO James Martin touted the ejection seat as “the most-scrutinized and intensively tested ejection seat in history.”

“We are extremely pleased that we have successfully met all the specified physiological head and neck load requirements as demonstrated during the Ejection Seat test program,” Baker said at the time.

The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy also fly F-35B and F-35C variants. The Marine Corps and the Navy did not immediately respond to an American Military News request for comment.

On April 7, 2022, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported the U.S. had 450 F-35s across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The F-35 is also operated by numerous U.S. allies and partners including Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea and Singapore.

The entire F-35 fleet was grounded in 2018 in order to inspect the aircraft for faulty fuel tubes.