The entire fleet of 97 F-35 fighter jets manufactured by the Lockheed Martin Corporation has been grounded. All flights have been suspended until an inspection of the engine, built by Pratt & Whitney, is completed.
Both the Navy and U.S. Air Force have suspended operations of the F-35 jets, which is estimated to cost as much as $159 million for each unit. The operations were suspended after an engine fire occurred in June while the pilot was preparing for takeoff at the Elgin Air Force base in Florida. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, and there were no injuries. The United Kingdom and U.S. military will be involved in the directive that mandates the inspection of the engines.
The office of the U.S. Pentagon said the pilot involved was preparing for airshows to be held in the UK later in July. However, now it appears that all plans for the F-35 fighter jet, which was set to feature in a fly-by during the naming ceremony of a British aircraft carrier, may be canceled until the investigation is complete.
The Pentagon’s F-35 jet fighter program has not been without controversy since it began. It has been described as the costliest program undertaken by the U.S. military, at a total estimated cost of almost $400 billion, and appears to have been plagued by with several lengthy delays. The recent engine fire delay follows an earlier issue, where an inflight oil leak was detected, although the pilot was able to safely land the aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona. The Defense department says that flights will resume when the inspection is completed and all engineering data have been collected and analysed.
The F-35 is a fifth generation of Joint Strike fighter jets and includes some of the most advanced technologies in avionics. Its stealth technology is believed to be the most advanced, and the sensor packages are said to be the most powerful in the history of any aircraft.
There are three models of the F-35 under development, but the only model available for export is the F-35 Lightning II, which has attracted orders from several countries around the globe, including Canada, Turkey, Australia, the UK, Israel, the Netherlands and Norway. Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney and U.S. Air Force officials are involved in the determination of the cause of the fire, and are assessing the impact on operation schedules such as training and flight testing.
As the entire F-35 fleet remains grounded, some countries are evaluating the decision to purchase the costly radar-evading stealth jets. The UK is expected to purchase 138 units, and Canada is expected to issue a favorable decision to spend up to $45 billion on an F-35 jet plan. The U.S. Pentagon has signed a deal to purchase up to 2,500 of the single-engine planes. South Korea and Australia have said that there are no changes in their purchasing decisions, and although the cost continues to balloon, Australia confirmed plans to buy 58 units, and South Korea has voiced plans to buy 40 units.
By Dale Davidson