F-35 and F/A-18 flights banned in the USA due to defective catapults: Eurofighter, Rafale and Gripen are at risk

All F-35 and F/A-18 fighter jets in the US undergo emergency inspection, it can affect Eurofighter, Rafale, JAS 39 Gripen, Tornado and Mirage 2000, ie most of the aircraft fleet of NATO countries

Immediately, a number of Western profile media, including the Air Force Times, Defense News and Janes reported on the glaring problem and the Pentagon’s decision to ground the planes. We are talking about the “landing” of the F-35, F/A-18 of all versions, including the E/A-18G Growler, as well as the training and training T-38, T-6, T-45 Goshawk and F-5 Tiger II.

Moreover, the problem may concern Eurofighter, Dassault Rafale, Gripen, as well as other aircraft around the world that use ejection seats from the British company Martin-Baker. And, for understanding, this company occupies a huge part of the international market of catapults and supplies them to almost a hundred countries, because they are installed in more than 200 types of aircraft.


         Of these eight aircraft, only two are not equipped with Martin-Baker seats
Of these eight aircraft, only two are not equipped with Martin-Baker seats

As of now, it is known that on April 22, during the maintenance of the F-35 at the Hill air base in Utah, technicians noticed that the ejector cartridge of the catapult turned out to be suspiciously light. When the technicians opened it, it was empty. That is, without the ejector charge, which is ejected by the pilot’s ejection seat.

Note that the catapult in the eyes of technicians is definitely not something that can be incomplete and you hardly expect “surprises” from it. According to Defense News , which has collected as much information as possible on this topic and interviewed both representatives of the Pentagon and Martin-Baker, it all ended with the fact that technicians checked all other aircraft at the air base and did not find similar problems . Of course, the manufacturing company was also notified, which admitted that it had a quality control failure.

That is, at that time no decision was made regarding the mass inspection of planes, and the incident was most likely recognized as an isolated one. It wasn’t until July 19 that the F-35 Joint Program Office issued a “routine” and not an “urgent” directive to conduct a review of the catapults within 90 days.

What happened between April 22 and July 19 still remains a mystery, but it is possible to make an assumption that during these three months, similar empty ejector cartridges of catapults were found in a number of other aircraft.

Moreover, it appears that after July 19th, the number of reports of “empty” ejector rounds has become much higher than expected. And this caused the emergency decision of the Pentagon to ban the flights of aircraft with catapults from Martin-Baker and to start the fastest possible inspection of machines and flight bans.


         This is far from the first technical problem for the F-35
This is far from the first technical problem for the F-35

Note that different publications give a different picture of the scale of the problem that is unfolding right now. At first, information appeared that only the “ground” F-35As of the US Air Force, which are based in the USA, “landed”, then that this applies to absolutely all F-35s, including carrier-based aircraft and aircraft located at air bases abroad. There are also differences in the data regarding training vehicles and carrier-based F/A-18s.

It is only noted that the planes “landed” for the fastest possible analysis during the weekend. Based on the results of this large-scale inspection, a decision will be made on the resumption of flights from Monday. Moreover, aircraft that have already passed the inspection will receive a permit for operation.


         The F/A-18 and F-35 are all carrier-based aircraft of the US Navy
The F/A-18 and F-35 are all carrier-based aircraft of the US Navy

At the same time, the F-35 Joint Program Office has already reported that the problem concerns only a “limited range of batch numbers” of the ejector cartridges. And the military, of course, keeps information about the number of defective catapults a secret. Because in addition to the real psychological effect for the pilots, we are talking about the loss of combat capability.


         The Pentagon's decision regarding the F-35 is definitely the biggest force majeure in recent years
The Pentagon’s decision regarding the F-35 is definitely the biggest force majeure in recent years

To understand the level of the problem, catapults from Martin-Baker type Mk16 and their modifications are used in the following combat aircraft (training and training and combat training – not counted):

  • Eurofighter
  • Rafale
  • F-35

But if you take into account the fact that the F-5, in which the Mk10 is used, was also banned from flying, then the list expands to:

  • Super Tucano
  • JAS 39 Gripen
  • Tornado
  • Mirage 2000

         The threat of simultaneous verification of Rafale and Mirage 2000 is just a "combo";  for France, Egypt and India
The threat of simultaneous verification of Rafale and Mirage 2000 is just a “combo” for France, Egypt and India

To this we must add the Mk14, which is installed on the F/A-18. Thus, for example, the entire combat aircraft of France (Rafale and Mirage 2000), Germany, Italy and Great Britain (Eurofighter and Tornado) are at risk. It may not be necessary to mention that in Sweden, the Czech Republic and Hungary all combat aircraft are JAS 39 Gripen. And the F/A-18 for Canada, Spain, Switzerland and Finland is the basis of the air force.

That is, of all combat aircraft, the inspection does not only apply to the F-16, F-15 and F-22, which use the ACES II ejection seat from Raytheon Technologies.


         The F-15 is no threat, as are the F-16 and F-22, and the A-10
The F-15 is no threat, as are the F-16 and F-22, and the A-10

On the part of Defense Express, the situation is bordering on “impossible”. If it were not for the extensive publications of authoritative publications, it would be accepted as a “throwaway”. Because the situation in the world, and we are talking not only about the aggression of the Russian Federation, but also about the frank demonstration of China’s readiness to conduct an amphibious operation against Taiwan, to put it mildly, does not favor such a thing. Therefore, of course, this immediately gave rise to a significant number of conspiracy theories.

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