Latest incident involving a F/A-18C took place aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson on April 11th 2011. The incident occurred as the ‘Hornet’ pilot was conducting ‘touch-and-go’ landing practices. A fire on one of its two General Electric F404-GE-402 turbofan engines apparently started soon after departing the carrier. The emergency landing procedure that ensued, involving a return and landing on the carrier deck with only one engine operating was successfully executed. The brief fire that followed the emergency landing was swiftly extinguished by emergency crews with a P-25 mobile fire fighting vehicle and deck emergency hose teams. The plane, part of VFA 113 which at some point seems to have been ‘engulfed’ in flames sustained fire-related damages however no injuries were reported. VFA113 is a 12 Hornets fighter squadron outfit part of Carrier Air Wing CVW-17 of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California currently deployed on board the USS Carl Vinson now operating with the US 5th Fleet in the Arabian Gulf.
This latest incident follows the April 6th 2011 crash of a F-18F Super Hornet that killed both pilots following an explosion of another General Electric F404-GE-402 turbofan engine on a F-18C aboard the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier on March 30th 2011, both occurring near San Diego. The March 30th engine explosion on the USS John C. Stennis injured 11 sailors involved in the firefighting operation.
On our April 6th 2011 report of the fatal F-18F crash in California, we conducted a cursory review of US Navy procurement programs with safety-related issues in the background. These were our observations:
Analyzing procurement programs for the F-18 E-F aircraft flight-critical systems, the Navy has recently sought to implement a major engineering change effort that would involve a complete redesign of the F-18 Super Hornet’s family Trailing Edge Flap (TEF) system. It appears that extensive testing and structural analysis have demonstrated premature apparition of fatigue-related cracks among other tell-tale signs of structural failure (“Co-cure rib 1 shear clip failure, cracks in the inboard hinge area, cracks in the front spar, cracks in the splice rib, numerous fastener failures, co-cure skin stability and rib pull off, micro cracking in the co-cure rabbet”). These results of sustained ‘testing and complete teardown analysis’ advised the adoption of a new Trailing Edge Flap system using a traditional Honeycomb aluminum structure as a replacement to the current Trailing Edge Flap. The current Trailing Edge Flap benefits from a highly advanced composite materials structure that uses a co-cure bonding chemical process for enhanced physical properties (rigidity, heat resistance etc). Hawker de Havilland Australia, wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing is sole provider of the F-18 wing Trailing Edge Flaps
On March 24th 2011 the US Navy ordered 65 additional Navy Aircrew Common Ejection Seats (NACESs) manufactured by Martin Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd (headquartered in Denham, England). The NACES is operational across the entire US Navy F-18 family of aircraft F-18A/C E/F and the EA-18G variants. Finally we identified a massive $576 million package order for the delivery of engine components and associated replacement, repair and overhaul services for the F-18 Super Hornet (E/F and G variants) General Electric F414 engines with General Electric Aviation of Lynn Massachusetts.
This summary review indicates that the Navy despite set backs in current funding has been making sound investment decisions with respect to sustaining operational safety.