In Russia: Copied Soviet Yak-141’s unit damaged the F-35 in Texas

The comments were made by Roman Gusarov. Their assessments, opinions and comments on the topic do not reflect the position of BulgarianMilitary.com

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MOSCOW, RUSSIA — On December 28, Defense News, citing Pentagon officials, announced the suspension of F-35 fighter jet flights. The reason was the December 15 incident with the crash of an F-35B aircraft at a military airfield in Texas.

In Russia: Copied Soviet Yak-141's unit damaged the F-35 in Texas
Photo credit: Flickr / Samuel King Jr.

Almost immediately after the incident, a video spread on social networks, in which you can see how a fighter with a short takeoff and landing capability first circles, then descends, bounces off the ground, and rolls forward. The nose of the aircraft and then the right wing touched the ground, the fighter turned and the pilot ejected. She had the complete impression that the plane had “run amok” and, like a stubborn horse, she decided to throw out the “rider”. After this incident, the United States began to fear an “epidemic” from the crash of its best fighters, suspecting some kind of systemic error in the failure.

“F-35 flights at several military bases have been suspended until at least January. This is due to the identified increased risk,” a US military spokesman said, without specifying how many fighters would be affected by the ban.

It is known that the decision was made for the entire period of investigation of the accident. Whether a month is enough to clarify all the circumstances is a big question, but this example was followed not only by the Americans but also by the Israeli Air Force, which is also armed with vehicles of this type.

The tests will take place in Fort Worth, Texas, where Lockheed Martin makes most of the F-35, and East Hartford, Connecticut, where Pratt & Whitney makes F135 propulsion systems. According to preliminary data, the crash was caused by a malfunction in the F-35’s propulsion system.

How many F-35s have crashed?

As of December 2022, over 875 F-35s have been produced. There are three modifications: the basic version is called the F-35A and is considered the least complex. The short takeoff and F-35C VTOL versions of the F-35B are the most technically sophisticated of the F-35 lineup. The development program cost $55.1 billion. However, since the beginning of mass production, the machine has been plagued by breakdowns.

F-35 Lightning II fighter jet
Photo by Lance cpl. Jose S.Guerrero Deleon

On June 23, 2014, an F-35A assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron of the United States Air Force experienced an engine fire. The damage amounted to 50 million dollars, and the plane had to be written off. On September 23, 2016, an F-35A assigned to the 61st Squadron caught fire on the runway at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. The reason is a malfunction of the F135 engine.

On October 27, 2016, an F-35B assigned to the 501st Naval Strike Fighter Squadron made an emergency landing in South Carolina. The cause was a malfunction in the installation near the hydro pipes, which led to the fire.

On August 22, 2018, an F-35A assigned to the US Air Force’s 58th Fighter Squadron also made an emergency landing. The reason is a malfunction of the EOTS optical-electronic location system. In September 2018, the F-35C already suffered an engine failure during mid-air refueling.

In April 2019, an F-35A from the 302nd Squadron of the Japanese Air Force crashed during a training flight. The next F-35A crashed in May 2020 while landing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. In 2020, another plane crash of this series was recorded, one hard and one emergency landing.

On March 12, 2021, an F-35B assigned to the 1st US Test and Evaluation Squadron was damaged by a projectile from its own gun.

Two high-profile episodes occurred in the short period of 2021/2022: when a Royal Navy F-35B fighter jet crashed into the Mediterranean from the USS Queen Elizabeth, and when an American F-35C fighter aircraft carrier crashed while attempting to land on the USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea.

Moreover, in the latter case, the cause of the crash was apparently a technical fault, as the car was lost “in extremely good weather conditions”.

Fuel line may have damaged F135, deliveries stopped, no acceptance flights
Photo credit: Twitter

In October 2022, the F-35 crashed in the US state of Utah, but the causes of the accident have not yet been named. Finally, the F-35 incident at an air base in Texas in mid-December grounded the vehicles for a while.

F-35 crash – causes

Experts suggest that one of the causes of the crash was a desynchronization of the plane’s control surfaces. There may be improper coordination of the aircraft and control levers. This has already happened in 2020 and 2021.

The onboard computer of the remote control system gives a command to lower the nose, and the pilot gives reverse commands, trying to abort the landing and go around. According to the head of the industrial portal Avia.ru, Roman Gusarov, it is too early to draw concrete conclusions, as well as predict the write-off of the entire series.

Yak-141 and F-35. Comparison

In the US, a popular version is that if problems are found in the F-35 engine, then all the blame can lie on Soviet engineers. The basis of the American rotary nozzle engine is the unit of the Soviet Yak-141 aircraft.

On the NASA site, there is a document from 1993, where it is written that the Americans plan to study all developments on the Yak-141 [and Yak-38]. It is possible that Lockheed Martin’s funding for the construction of additional Yak-141 prototypes was a cover for the purchase of technical data for the Yak-141 project.

The Yakovlev Design Bureau and Lockheed Martin collaborated from 1991 to 1997, and immediately after that, the development of the American car began to move forward.

In Russia: Copied Soviet Yak-141's unit damaged the F-35 in Texas
Photo credit: Ken Videan

The highlight of the F-35 is a three-piece rotating nozzle. Such technologies appeared in the USA in the 70s, but in this version, the implementation turned out to be too expensive and complicated. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, American engineers gained access to the Yak-141 technology.

But we must not forget that the Americans are not altruists, but businessmen who at that time bought up all the more or less suitable technologies in the world, including in Russia, which existed for several years in the form of a mortal enemy – the Soviet Union.

The Yak-141 deck fighter is known to be capable of both horizontal and vertical take-off by deflecting the engine nozzle down at an angle of 90 degrees. Focusing on the Yak-141, the Americans radically changed the design of the Pratt & Whitney 3BSD rotary nozzle. The location of the lifting fan compartment and the fuselage tail booms were mounted relative to the lifting engine at the same angles as in the Yak-141.

The problem is that in the Yak-141, the rotating nozzle has a multi-layered structure, with each layer made of a special type of alloy. Vanadium-titanium and vanadium-chromium form the base, “baked” after assembly in a special furnace at an incredible temperature. The F-35’s rotating nozzle uses heat-resistant ceramic – the same as the Space Shuttle.

Another point that experts note is that the Yak-141 lifting engine is designed for one mode of operation, and the American designers have set it up in their own way, and this may be causing them problems at the moment. Whether this happened by accident, or the Soviet designers deliberately “planted a pig”, no one knows and is unlikely to ever find out. We can only talk about what this all led to.

In Russia: Copied Soviet Yak-141's unit damaged the F-35 in Texas
Photo credit: Ken Videan

Most likely, sooner or later Lockheed Martin will think about its F-35, because this car, as experts say, is still less problematic than the same F-22 Raptor. But the fact that in the 90s, when the Americans adopted the Yak-141 technology, it seemed like a good deal – to buy know-how “for a billion” at a lower price from a country struggling for survival, today it does not seem so.

Losses to Lockheed Martin from several major F-35 incidents have not yet been calculated. Another question is what the designers of Lockheed Martin will do with the “Soviet genes”, which are both the main “chip” of the F-35 and the main bane of the entire program.

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