F-35 plane controversy: UBC's Michael Byers links single engines to higher risk of fatalities in the Arctic

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      A UBC professor and specialist on the Arctic has raised safety questions about the use of new single-engine F-35 aircraft in Canada's north.

      Michael Byers, a professor of political science and former NDP candidate in Vancouver Centre, has concluded in a new report that engine failures still occur, and sometimes it's only a plane's second engine that averts disaster.

      "The issue is especially important for Canada, which has the longest coastline in the world and vast Arctic territories," Byers wrote. "As one former CF-18 pilot told FrontLine Defence in May 2011: 'A single engine is stupid. There's no backup. If it fails, you're dead.' "

      The report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (and jointly released with the Rideau Institute) reviews the history of military planes used in the Arctic, including the CF-104 Starfighter, which was in service from 1961 to 1987.

      It had one engine and, according to Byers, this "made it vulnerable to crashes involving bird strikes".

      "As a tactical strike aircraft, the Starfighters flew fast at low altitudes, exacerbating this risk," Byers wrote. "During the 26 years of operation, about one-quarter of Canada's 110 Starfighter crashes were attributed to bird strikes."

      That led to the loss of 39 pilots, causing this plane to be nicknamed the "Widow Maker", Byers added.

      The Starfighter and the twin-engine CF-101 Voodoo were replaced by the twin-engine F-18. Newspaper reports during the tendering process noted that Canadian Forces pilots preferred the twin-engine plane over the single-engine F-16.

      In his report, Byers detailed how the F-16 had a troubling safety record, with 297 of the U.S. Air Force's 1,300 lost in crashes.

      "Although information on some of the crashes is limited, at least 76 and as many as 166 were caused by engine failure," Byers wrote. "The Norwegian Air Force has lost 16 of its fleet of 72 F-16s to crashes. At least six of the crashes involved engine failures, three of which were caused by bird strikes."

      The Conservative government continues backing the single-engine F-35, which are made by Lockheed-Martin.

      This support comes even after the auditor general, Michael Ferguson, told a parliamentary committee that Conservative cabinet ministers knew that the government's order of 65 planes would cost $25 billion. This was $10 billion higher than the Conservatives were admitting during the 2011 election campaign.

      Earlier this year, the CBS newsmagazine show 60 Minutes broadcast an alarming report on the F-35, which is the Pentagon's preferred warplane.

      The U.S. is reportedly spending $400 billion to purchase 2,400 of these aircraft.

      "If it performs as advertised, the F-35 will enable U.S. pilots to control the skies in any future conflict against the likes of China or Russia," CBS correspondent David Martin said in the 60 Minutes introduction. "But the F-35 has not performed as advertised. It's seven years behind schedule and $163 billion over budget, or as the man in charge of the F-35 told us, 'basically the program ran itself off the rails.' "


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      Jun 9, 2014 at 12:49pm

      F35 was an interesting concept - make a multirole craft with swappable mission modules for navy VTOL, front line STOL, light bomber, fighter, close support, etc.

      But the business model has been so bad that the US will never again forego flyoff competition before awarding contracts.

      And the actual flying characteristics have been questioned by experts who say the wing loading is too high (meaning it won't turn well enough for dogfighting), the range is too short (meaning that a true air superiority fighter like the F22 will still be needed) and it is so expensive that air forces are going to have to try to do more with fewer functioning ships.

      The only people who really seem to need it is the US navy and marines because the Harrier is truly an exhausted, old technology.

      It's a great lesson in not trying to be everything to everybody. I sure hope the Canadians can get out of the contract. What we need is border interdiction and for that I like the idea of the SuperHornet - Google "F35 vs Super Hornet." We don't need to make the F35 affordable for the Americans.

      Steve Silver

      Jun 9, 2014 at 3:55pm

      I wonder what information a 3 letter American agency may have known about individuals in our federal government, civil service, or military to get Canada to sign a bad deal.

      Illegal slush funds, associations with notorious criminals, and personal vices are par for the course.

      8 9Rating: -1


      Jun 9, 2014 at 7:14pm


      Your truth on the performance of this aircraft is spot on. And let's not fail to mention it's single engine weakness. But the other truth is although we've already spent $600 million on co-development costs, there is no further contractual commitment for Canadians. The Super Hornet is what we need. It's affordable. It's multi-role. And it's still American, albeit, not the platform the Yanks were hoping we'd support the with.

      7 6Rating: +1