F-35 engine burns and the economy of scale

Keep an eye out for progress, or lack of it on the new F-35 jet fighter. The world’s most costly jet, which someday may be seen and definitely heard in the skies over Burlington, ran into more trouble recently, an engine fire and continued cost problems, to be specific. Preliminary results into what caused an F-35’s engine to rip apart and burn on take-off report:

…excessive rubbing of fan blades in a certain section of the Pratt & Whitney-made F135 engine, […] rubbing was far more severe than normal and led to higher temperatures, cracking and fatigue, “That's what caused that engine to come apart,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who manages Joint Strike Fighter program. [added emphasis]

Last month’s malfunction and fire resulted in orders to temporarily ground all F-35 jets. This will prohibit any from showing themselves off at the prestigious Farnborough Air Show. A much hyped appearance at the industry sponsored exhibition in Britain was hoped to impress potential buyers of the plane. Maybe a video of the runway engine fire and fleet-wide grounding demonstration could suffice.

Late Tuesday the F-35 was cleared to fly.But the BBC is reporting that only a life-sized model will make it to the Farnborough Air Show. Maybe the world's most expensive sales display. Well plywood or inflatable I bet it very quiet.

The world’s most expensive real fighter jet and sweetheart of the Vermont’s GBIC may be caught in a budget vise. Eventually bulk purchases of the F-35 are the goal set forth to drive down the cost of the world’s most expensive fighter jet. However everyone isn’t on board.

The cost of the F-35 itself increased $3.1 billion, according to the report — a number Bogdan said is primarily attributed to DoD jets from its budget plans between 2015 and 2018, when the purchase of 33 aircraft, mostly Navy, were delayed. As of April 2014 the total cost to procure and develop the F-35 is pegged at $398.6 billion. [added emphasis]

The economies of scale don’t work when Congress (as they did recently) cuts or delays the number of jets to be purchased. And I imagine the major contractors will hold out for long-term ironclad purchase guarantees to someday make back the development dollars they are investing now to produce cheaper parts.

It looks, from a glance at the sleek F-35 webpage, as if they sliced the development pie dollars up between more than a few aerospace/defense contractors and congressional districts – Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, and Pratt and Whitney. Smaller slices of the massive dollar pie are being served to more than 1,400 suppliers from 46 U.S. states and companies from 10 other countries around the world. It's an ongoing boondoggle Vermonters will hear plenty more from later.

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