How an ordinary flashlight damaged an F-35 engine and caused millions of dollars in damage

In a startling revelation, a recent report by the Air Force Accident Investigation Board unveils an incident that occurred in March 2023 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. This incident involved a flashlight inadvertently left inside the air intake of a fifth-generation F-35 during maintenance, resulting in a staggering $4 million worth of damage to the engine.

II. The Incident Details

During routine maintenance, a technician overlooked a flashlight in the air intake, only to be discovered after the engine was run for five minutes. The damage wasn’t immediately visible during operation but became apparent once the engine was turned off, accompanied by a suspicious noise.

III. Immediate Inspection Results

Surprisingly, the initial engine check revealed no signs of damage while the engine was operational. However, upon closer inspection after shutdown, several component damages were identified, emphasizing the severity of the situation.

IV. Technician’s Negligence

The investigation found that a maintenance technician failed to follow safety protocols, specifically the Joint Tech Data warning. The oversight of ensuring all engine inlets and outlets were free of loose objects contributed to the mishap.

V. Visual Inventory Neglect

Neglecting a crucial step in the maintenance process, specialists failed to conduct a visual inventory of tools after each task. This procedural lapse allowed the flashlight to go unnoticed, leading to severe consequences.

VI. Issues with the Autonomous Logistics Information System (ALIS)

Beyond human error, the incident sheds light on problems with the ALIS, the system designed to integrate operations and maintenance. Lack of real-time communication and awkward interfaces contribute to inefficiencies and potential oversights.

VII. Complacency and Maintenance Procedures

The combination of many checklists and difficulties in accessing the correct ones fosters complacency among users. This, in turn, may result in inadequate adherence to crucial maintenance procedures, increasing the likelihood of incidents.

VIII. Lawmakers’ Dissatisfaction

Lawmakers have expressed dissatisfaction with the ALIS system, prompting the Joint Office of the F-35 program to embark on a transition to a new operational data-integrated network. However, this transition has been underway for four years, raising concerns about the delay in addressing critical issues.

Conclusion

The flashlight mishap serves as a stark reminder of the importance of rigorous maintenance procedures and the need for reliable systems. Both human negligence and technological shortcomings played a role in this costly incident. As the F-35 program strives for improvement, addressing these issues is paramount to prevent future mishaps.

FAQs

  1. Q: How did a flashlight cause $4 million in damage to the F-35 engine?
    • A: The flashlight was left inside the air intake during maintenance, leading to severe damage when the engine was operated.
  2. Q: Were the damages immediately visible during the engine check?
    • A: No, the damages became apparent only after the engine was turned off, accompanied by a suspicious noise.
  3. Q: What role did the Autonomous Logistics Information System (ALIS) play in the incident?
    • A: ALIS, designed to integrate operations and maintenance, suffered from communication issues and awkward interfaces, contributing to the mishap.
  4. Q: Why are lawmakers dissatisfied with the ALIS system?
    • A: Lawmakers express concerns about ALIS’s inefficiencies, leading to the ongoing transition to a new operational data-integrated network.
  5. Q: How long has the transition to the new operational data-integrated network been in progress?
    • A: The transition has been ongoing for four years, prompting concerns about the delay in addressing critical issues.