Pentagon clears F-35 for limited flights

 

The Pentagon has lifted a grounding order for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, which could allow the next generation aircraft to make an appearance at an international air show in England. 

“Yesterday the air worthiness authorities for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force approved the F-35 fleet to return to flight,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement Tuesday. 

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Kirby said the F-35 fleet would still be under scrutiny and that the lifting of the grounding was limited.

“This is a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope which will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23 engine mishap is identified and corrected,” he said. 

The Pentagon grounded the entire F-35 fleet following an incident on June 23 where an engine on one of the Air Force versions of the aircraft caught fire during takeoff.

The Marine Corps variant of the F-35 was due to make its international debut at the world-renowned Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire, England, which began on Monday.

The Pentagon cautioned that there has been no final decision on whether the aircraft would attend the air show. 

“We remain hopeful that the F-35 can make an appearance at the Farnborough airshow. This information is an encouraging step, but no final decision has been made at this time,” Kirby said. 

“Safety remains the overriding priority. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available,” he said. 

On Monday, Pentagon officials said the air show was two weeks long, and the F-35 could make an appearance at any time during the event.

Defense undersecretary Frank Kendall said earlier this week the fire was caused by rubbing between some blades of the engine and the cowl around them, and there was no evidence that the incident was due to “systemic difficulties.”

At almost $400 billion, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons effort in U.S. history.

Already seven years behind schedule, project costs have ballooned by roughly 70 percent even though the U.S. has reduced the number of planes it intends to purchase by more than 400 to roughly 2,400 aircraft.

Martin Matishak contributed to this story.