Statement from FIA:
F-35 Fighter Jet Cleared to Resume Flights
By NICOLA CLARK
JULY 15, 2014
FARNBOROUGH, England — The F-35 fighter jet may take flight here after all.
The United States Defense Department said on Tuesday that air safety officials had cleared the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to resume flights after an investigation into an engine fire last month appeared to have ruled out a systemic problem.
Analysts said the move would most likely clear the way for the Pentagon’s newest warplane to make its planned debut at the major air show here, possibly as early as Thursday, even though the root cause of the fire at a base in Florida remains unknown.
The risk of a no-show by the F-35, built by Lockheed Martin, has been the talk of the weeklong Farnborough International Air Show, which began Monday, threatening to overshadow a raft of civilian jet orders from the two industry behemoths, Airbus and Boeing.
The Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, called the lifting of the grounding order “an encouraging step,” but stressed that no definitive plans had been made to send the jets to Britain.
“Safety remains the overriding priority,” Admiral Kirby said in a statement.
American military officials said on Monday that the June 23 fire had been caused by “excessive rubbing” of a turbine blade in the jet’s single engine, which is built by Pratt & Whitney. The added friction shattered a fan blade, sparking a fire as the jet accelerated for takeoff from Eglin Air Force Base, the officials said.
Lt. Gen. Christopher C. Bogdan of the United States Air Force told journalists that inspections of the entire 97-plane fleet had yielded no signs of similar damage to the turbine blades of any other engines.
There were no injuries reported in the case, which followed a brief grounding of the F-35 fleet in early June after an oil leak forced a Marine Corps pilot to make an emergency landing.
The setbacks follow a series of technical problems and development delays that have dogged the F-35, one of the world’s most ambitious weapons programs, with estimated development costs of around $400 billion. Analysts said the timing of the problems, just as Lockheed Martin was hoping to demonstrate the plane to prospective export buyers here, could not have been worse.
“It is a huge embarrassment. There’s no getting away from that,” said Howard Wheeldon, an independent investment strategist and a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
Mr. Wheeldon predicted that Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon would do everything they could to get the F-35 to Farnborough to prove, both to customers and to the British government, which helped finance the jet’s development, “that it does everything it says on the tin.”
The Pentagon has committed to buying more than 2,400 of the single-engine, supersonic planes, which are designed to be almost undetectable by radar. A dozen other American allies — including Australia, Canada, Israel and Japan — have signaled plans to purchase as many as 700 in total. But budget constraints have already led some countries, including Britain, Italy and the Netherlands, to consider reducing their original purchase plans.
© 2014 The New York Times