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Defence confirms Nellis incident Growler write-off

A picture of the stricken aircraft taken from outside the southeast permitter of Nellis AFB after the event shows the destroyed right vertical stabiliser and the extensive fire damage.

Defence has confirmed the RAAF EA-18G Growler which had an engine fire and aborted takeoff from Nellis AFB in January has been deemed “beyond economic repair and has been withdrawn from service”.

In an August 13 statement to the ABC, a Defence spokesman said, “The investigation into the EA-18G Growler aircraft incident at Nellis Air Force Base has been completed and was provided to the Chief of Air Force on 30 July 2018. A review of the recommendations is underway.”

The aircraft was taking off from Nellis AFB on January 28 for a familiarisation flight in preparation for Exercise Red Flag 18-1 when it suffered a catastrophic engine failure. The two crew members stayed with the aircraft until it came to rest between Nellis’ eastern runway and a parallel taxiway, and were able to exit the jet and get clear of the growing fire.

Sources tell ADBR that, had the failure happened a couple of seconds later, the aircraft would have been committed to the takeoff and the crew would probably have had to eject over the desert north of the base.

“The highly-trained aircrew responded to the emergency situation and performed a ground evacuation,” a Defence spokesman told ADBR on February 27. “The Directorate of Defence Aviation and Air Force Safety (DDAAFS) Accident Investigation Team (AIT), working in cooperation with the United States Navy, have carried out engineering inspections that indicate the most likely cause is an engine component failure.”

Sources told ADBR that a high-pressure compressor disk of the right-hand engine suffered a catastrophic uncontained failure. The turbine disk broke into three major pieces and these were ejected from the aircraft, with one destroying the right-hand vertical stabiliser, another considerably damaging the left engine, and the third damaging the runway.

It is unclear whether the RAAF will look to replace the aircraft, or whether it will be considered part of an acceptable rate of attrition which would have been a factor when the original order for 12 EA-18Gs was placed.

As to the possibility of compensation for the component failure leading to the loss of a near-new jet which had less than 200 hours on it, Defence would only say that it “is exploring options for the recovery of economic losses resulting from the incident.”

This is likely to be a process which will primarily involve government-to-government negotiations through the US Navy as the foreign military sales (FMS) parent service, rather than with Boeing as the prime contractor or General Electric as the engine manufacturer.

This image taken from outside the northwest permitter of Nellis AFB shows fire crews in HAZMAT suits inspecting the damaged aircraft after the engine fire. (Barry Ambrose)