* Batteries made by different firms than those on Boeing 787
* Issue with batteries not starting on cold days being
* Some F-35B models cleared for flight after Jan. 18
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Feb 12 The Pentagon said it plans to
continue using lithium-ion batteries on the new F-35 fighter jet
despite problems with similar batteries that have grounded
Boeing Co's new 787 airliner and are causing Airbus to
rethink their use on its A350 jet.
Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon's $396 billion
F-35 program office, said on Tuesday that the lithium-ion
batteries used on the new radar-evading fighter were made by
different manufacturers than those used on the 787, and the
jet's battery systems had been rigorously tested.
"The bottom line is the lithium-ion batteries used on the
F-35s have been through extensive tests and have redundant
systems to protect the aircraft and battery compartments; they
are considered safe," DellaVedova said.
DellaVedova said there had been some irregularities with the
lithium-ion batteries not starting properly in cold temperatures
that were being addressed, but no issues affecting flight safety
had come up during years of testing.
All 50 Boeing Dreamliners in commercial service were
grounded worldwide on Jan. 16 after a series of battery-related
incidents, including a fire on board a parked 787 at Boston's
Logan International Airport and an in-flight problem on another
airplane in Japan.
The groundings have cost airlines tens of millions of
dollars, with no solution yet in sight, and have sparked growing
concerns among aerospace industry executives about whether the
powerful but delicate backup energy systems are technically
"mature", or predictable.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which is
examining the 787 fire in Boston, said it was looking at the
total design of the Boeing 787 battery, built by Japan's GS
Yuasa Corp on behalf of France's Thales SA,
including the charging system, electrical interconnections, and
their thermal isolation of different battery cells from each
Two of the biggest lithium-ion batteries on the F-35
warplane are made by the French company Saft Groupe SA,
which also makes batteries for Airbus, part of European
aerospace group EADS NV. Saft last month expressed
confidence that lithium-ion technology was safe.
But people familiar with the matter have said that Airbus
officials are reconsidering use of the batteries on the A350,
which would be the second large passenger jet to fly on
lithium-ion batteries for backup electrical power after the
Dreamliner, which pioneered their use in passenger transport to
support an increasing array of electrical systems.
Airbus said last week it had a plan B for its battery and
time to respond to any rule changes.
DellaVedova said military officials remained confident in
the lithium-ion batteries used on the F-35, and there were no
discussions under way to swap them out for heavier
Lockheed Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson last month
underscored her confidence in the lithium-ion batteries, telling
reporters that the batteries on the F-35 were made by a
different company and had been tested extensively.
Lockheed spokesman Mike Rein said more than a dozen F-35
jets were wired with extensive monitoring equipment to carry out
development testing and no flight safety issues had been
detected with the batteries during over 6,000 hours of flight
testing on the airplanes.
"We are monitoring our full battery system on a daily basis
as we flight test. We have continual data updates, and we've had
no indication that we are connected to the same issues that
grounded the 787," Rein said.
The F-35's battery system has run into a different problem
on the ground, with some airplanes failing to start during cold
temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius, DellaVedova said.
He cited "minor irregularities" that had been traced back to
a software issue in the jet's battery charger control unit, and
a fix was in the works for new jets in production and would be
retrofitted on earlier jets. The problem, he said, was not
related to the batteries themselves.
In the meantime, he said, measures were being taken to warm
the area near the battery on cold days prior to start.
One defense official said maintainers at Eglin Air Force
Base in Florida were using space heaters in some to warm the
jets, which required removing a panel of the plane's stealthy
coatings. "It's not ideal when you're talking about a fighter
jet that has to be ready to go at a moment's notice," said the
official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
Separately, the Pentagon's F-35 program office on Tuesday
lifted a Jan. 18 order that grounded nine F-35B developmental
test aircraft after a fuel line detached just before a training
flight at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Vice Admiral David Dunaway, head of Naval Air Systems
Command, was briefed Tuesday on the inspections of the faulty
components, and could lift flight restrictions on 16 additional
F-35B model jets being used for training as early as Wednesday,
according to two sources familiar with the matter.