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F-35C that crashed on USS Carl Vinson also damaged an EA-18G Growler on board

Growler damaged in F-35C on USS Carl Vinson in South China Sea
The Growler from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136 undergoing repairs in FRCSW's Building 94. Photo: US Navy

The F-35C fighter that crashed on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during operations in the South China Sea also damaged an EA-18G Growler aircraft that was on the deck at the time of the mishap.

While the mishap took place on January 14, the navy revealed the damages just now. The Fleet Readiness Center Southwest’s (FRCSW) refurbishing facilities inducted the Growler for repairs on February 15.

A version of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Growler is an airborne electronic attack (AEA) platform and is one of a variety of aircraft typically assigned to naval aircraft carriers.

USS Carl Vinson returned from its eight-month Pacific and Asia Pacific deployment to San Diego on February 14, while the F-35C was recovered from the South China Sea in early March.

When the F35C Joint Strike Fighter aircraft struck the flight deck, slid and caught fire, debris from the mishap damaged the Growler’s aft fuselage under the vertical tail.

Specifically, the S9 skin in between the Y631 and Y645 formers (fuselage structure) was punctured, according to Ehren Terbeek, F/A-18 Legacy and E/F program manager.

“The repair plan is to remove the vertical tail in order to remove the S9 and S10 skins. We will replace the S9 skin and are hoping to save the S10 skin after evaluating it with a non-destructive inspection (NDI),” Terbeek said.

“We will need to NDI the Y631 former to verify that there is no crack, put the skins back on and place the vertical tail back on. If we do not have to replace the Y631 former or the S10 skin it should be around 4,500 manhours or about nine months.”

Terbeek said that the command will manufacture the Y645 former using its Flexible Manufacturing Cell (FMC) in Building 472. It will be the first Growler part to be made on the FMC.

The manufacturing cell is the first of its kind in the Defense Department and is comprised of six computer numerically controlled (CNC) five-axis machines and a pallet system which are made by DMG-Mori and Fastems, respectively. The FMC’s fixturing and preprogrammed parts were initially designed to support F/A-18 Hornet fighter and the E-2/C-2 airframe landing gear.

The CNC machines are capable of milling, turning and grinding within one machine and can be used on parts and components made of aluminum, steel and titanium.

The Growler’s former is made of aluminum, and once the material is received, manufacturing of the component should take about three weeks, Terbeek said. Manufacturing costs total approximately $208,000.

“Of that amount about $107,000 would be for non-recurring charges for modeling, programming and prove-out due to the fact this is the first time it is being manufactured; plus material is $23,906,” Terbeek said.

In addition to a crew leader and three sheet metal mechanics, teammates from the command’s engineering and manufacturing departments will contribute to the repair.

Assignment of the aircraft after repairs are complete is currently undetermined.

“It would depend on Commander Electronic Attack Wing Pacific (CVWP) at Whidbey Island and the aviation Type Commander (TYCOM) to determine if it is still needed at VAQ-136 or a different squadron,” Terbeek said.

The VAQ-136 aircraft is the third Growler FRCSW has inducted under a mishap or damaged scenario.