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Forgotten Flashlight Causes $4M in Damage to F-35

Small mistakes can sometimes have big consequences.

Small mistakes can sometimes have big consequences. That’s the lesson one maintenance team is likely taking away from a recent mishap that caused millions in damages to an F-35, a U.S. military fighter jet that costs about $110 million to manufacture.

According to an aircraft accident investigation report released by the U.S. Air Force, a handheld flashlight left in the engine of an F-35 caused nearly $4 million in damage and created a situation that could not be repaired locally.

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In March 2023, a maintenance team at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona was scheduled to work on an F-35. The Time Compliance Technical Directive required the team to remove a panel and insert a metering plug into an engine fuel line to check for fuel leaks.

The engine run was completed with no visual evidence that something was wrong but once the engine was shut down, the team said they heard a noise. The resulting inspection found significant damage to the engine. The official cause of the $3,933,106 in damage was the F-35 engine “ingesting a flashlight.”

According to the report, the maintenance team had been dealing with weather delays caused by high winds, rain, lighting and thunder. That likely contributed to the error, which the review board blamed on an incomplete tool kit inventory and failure to comply with Joint-Service Technical Data guidance, prior to engine start.

Task & Purpose reached out to Luke officials but they declined to disclose whether the mishap team was facing any punishment as a result of the accident.

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