Israeli military halts F-35 training flights over faulty ejector seats

In wake of problem reported in US, IDF says Air Force commander orders entire fleet examined, will approve operational activity on case-by-case basis

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

An Israeli technician stands in front of an F-35 fighter jet ahead of an air force exercise in Italy in June 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli technician stands in front of an F-35 fighter jet ahead of an air force exercise in Italy in June 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Air Force on Saturday grounded its advanced F-35 fighters for training flights, a day after it was reported that the United States discovered a problem with the stealth jets’ ejector seats.

Air Force commander Tomer Bar held an assessment on the matter on Saturday night and decided to have the entire fleet of 33 jets evaluated over the next few days.

Bar “emphasized that the examinations must be done in a strict and thorough manner in order to return the fleet to full competence while maintaining a high safety standard,” according to a statement published by the Israel Defense Forces.

F-35 operational activity is expected to continue amid the evaluation. The IDF said such uses would be approved by Bar on a case-by-case basis.

The move came after the US Air Force on Friday said it was temporarily grounding its F-35 fleet over a problem with the cartridges used to blast out the ejector seats in the event of an emergency.

Air Force Times reported Friday that the US first discovered the problem in April, but waited three months to ground the plane while the issue was investigated.

An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet seen during the ‘Blue Flag’ aerial exercise at the Ovda air force base, October 24, 2021.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Seat manufacturer Martin-Baker said the problem was “traced back to a gap in the manufacturing process, which was addressed and changed.”

The defective part was loose and missing the magnesium powder used to ignite the propellant that shoots a pilot to safety, Martin-Baker spokesman Steve Roberts told Air Force Times.

The report said that since the problem was first discovered, the US had tested 2,700 F-35 ejection seat cartridges and found three failures.

Individual US jets will return to service after passing inspection.

The jet’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, said Saturday it was working “closely” with the Joint Program Office and customers on the seat ejector issue to “ensure safe and effective operations.”

“We are assisting with seat inspections where appropriate,” it added.

The fifth-generation F-35 has been lauded as a “game-changer” by the military, not only for its offensive and stealth capabilities, but for its ability to connect its systems with other aircraft and form an information-sharing network.

Israel has agreed to purchase at least 50 F-35 fighter jets from the US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. So far, 33 aircraft have been delivered, and the remaining planes are slated to arrive in batches of twos and threes until 2024.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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