The F-35 won’t fly while a June fire is investigated.
WASHINGTON – The Defense Department has grounded its fleet of F-35 fighter jets after one of them caught fire as it was preparing to take off at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Pentagon said.
The grounding is the latest in a long string of delays that has plagued the Air Force’s newest, and most advanced, fighter aircraft, and comes just days before the plane was to make its international debut at an air show in Britain.
The root cause of the problem at Eglin two weeks ago remains under investigation, the Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, said.
“Additional inspections of F-35 engines have been ordered, and return to flight will be determined based on inspection results and analysis of engineering data,” he said.
The Pentagon is seeking to determine if the Eglin fire was an isolated incident or whether it signaled a wider problem in the F-35 fleet, which is spread across the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
Kirby said preparations were continuing for the fighter jet to take part in international air shows. A final decision on the British exhibition will be made in a few days, he said.
The F-35, which is manufactured by Lockheed Martin, will bring stealth capability to the country’s fighter fleet; its backers say that it will also bring a new versatility that will enable it to operate in virtually any battle situation.
The F-35 — as the only model available for export from America’s so-called fifth-generation of such aircraft — has already racked up a many orders on the global market. Australia, Britain, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway have all placed orders.
The jets have run into delays amid criticism of the cost, which has grown to about $400 billion, or $160 million per plane, the Government Accountability Office said.
Britain has several F-35 jets for testing and training, and is expected to buy 138 of the aircraft. During the dedication Friday of Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth, an F-35 was supposed to make a flyover, but it remained on the ground at Eglin.