Engine component failure has been identified as the most likely cause of the catastrophic engine failure and subsequent fire onboard an RAAF EA-18G Growler at Nellis AFB on January 28.
The aircraft was taking off for a famil flight over the Nellis Test & Training Range in preparation for the commencement of Exercise Red Flag 18-1 when, as it approached rotation speed, it suffered what Defence has described as a “malfunction”, with the crew forced to conduct a high-speed abort.
The two crew stayed with the aircraft until it came to rest off the side of Nellis’s eastern runway, and were able to climb out of the jet and get clear of the rapidly growing fire.
“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.”
As a result of the right hand side engine’s failure, the RAAF placed an operational pause on all F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler flying on January 30. Both aircraft types, operated by 82 Wing, are powered by GE F414 engines.
“Following continued technical analysis and data processing, the Operational Pause on 82WG aircraft was lifted on 1 February 2018,” the Defence spokesperson said.
“82WG Super Hornet aircraft recommenced flying at RAAF Base Amberley on 5 February, and the EA-18G Growler resumed flying at Nellis Air Force Base on 8 February 2018.”
No power or weight restrictions were placed on the Growler fleet following the lifting of the operational pause, the spokesperson confirmed.
ADBR understands the failure may be attributed to an issue which is restricted to a relatively small number of engines. However, “As the investigation is still ongoing, Defence cannot comment on the specifics of block build engines,” the spokesperson said.
“The RAAF fleet of F414 engines are interchangeable between the Growler and Super Hornets. Further investigation including the development of actions on specific engine components is continuing.
“ACG (Air Combat Group) has determined that operating certain engines can be carried out within extant and appropriate risk profiles. The 82WG fleet returned to normal operations using these engines.”
Damage to the Growler looks to be extensive from the limited number of images (above and below) seen so far, particularly on the starboard fin, stabiliser, and rear fuselage, but Defence has yet to make a formal recommendation to government on the aircraft’s fate.
“Defence continues to assess options in regard to the future of the airframe and will make a recommendation to Government once the assessment is completed,” the spokesperson noted.