The U.S. Defense Department has temporarily suspended flight operations of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 after its first crash prompted inspections of the fighter jet fleet.
The suspension by the Pentagon is to allow “a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft,” the Defense Department said in a statement on Ocdt. 11 The F-35 is the costliest U.S. weapons system.
The inspection is “is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina” on Sept. 28, according to the statement. The F-35B is the Marine Corps version of the aircraft.
Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 office said inspections “are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”
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“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced,” he said. “If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status.”
The Israeli Air Force, which said it also has grounded its version of the F-35 for “several days” of testing, suggested a more definitive finding has emerged in the continuing U.S. probe. It said in a statement that U.S. officials have informed their Israeli counterparts that “the findings indicate that the cause of the accident was a technical malfunction in the engine’s fuel pipe.”
More than 320 F-35s are already operating from 15 bases worldwide, although the Pentagon and Lockheed continue to wrestle with resolving more than 900 deficiencies, including flaws in the plane’s complex software.
By Tony Capaccio