Pooled fuel in the tailpipe of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter likely caused it to catch fire recently at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, an Air Force general involved with the program said.
“The initial feedback from this is it was not an engine fire; [investigators] are calling it a tailpipe fire,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, a former F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot who directs the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program’s integration office for the Air Force.
“A tailpipe fire is a result of some form of fuel getting ignited in the back-end of the airplane that is not necessarily in the engine, so this was not an engine problem. There was some excess fuel that pooled in the back of the airplane and then ignited” before takeoff, he said in an interview with Military.com on Wednesday.
The F-35A, assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing, was preparing for a training mission at Mountain Home when it caught fire just before takeoff Sept. 23, according to the service. But official details into the investigation have yet to be released.
“An engine fire is obviously a fire that starts in the engine,” Pleus said. This “is still obviously a problem but, at the same time, it had nothing to do with the engine problem [the F-35] had before, nor the [polyalphaolefin cooling] lines.”
Pleus was referring to the Lightning II’s engine difficulties in 2014, and recent insulation issues. (end of excerpt)
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: While Gen. Pleus seems satisfied that the latest fire has nothing to do with previous ones in the engine, the fact that it was caused by “excess fuel” that ended up pooling “in the back of the airplane and then ignited” would probably sound extremely worrying to anyone who is not chief of the US Air Force’s F-35 Integration Office.
The questions that immediately spring to mind are
(1) where did this “excess fuel” come from?
(2) why did it “pool” where it did instead of falling to the ground?
(3) why was it not detected before it caught fire?
Yet more unanswered questions for the F-35 Joint Program Office and the US Air Force to answer.)