Pentagon grounds F-35 fighter jets in wake of crash

Blanche Robertson
October 11, 2018

The Defense Department has temporarily grounded all of its 245 F-35 fighter jets for inspection of a potentially faulty engine part in the wake of last month's crash in SC.

The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps all have their versions of the F-35, each of which costs about $100 million.

An official report questioned earlier this year whether the F-35 was ready for combat after dozens of faults were found.

However, the inspections are looking at a certain kind of fuel tube that is estimated to be in about half the F-35 fleet, USA officials told The Washington Post. If good tubes are already installed, then those planes would be returned to operational status.

The South Carolina crash - the first ever for the 5th-generation plane - ironically happened just a day after an F-35B successfully completed a mission in Afghanistan, an event that was reported by the Pentagon as a major milestone for the program. The program is estimated to have a lifetime cost of over $1.5 trillion.

In the September 28 crash in SC near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, the pilot safely ejected from the aircraft, which belonged to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, known as the "Warlords".

"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced", he said.

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The plane, manufactured by Lockheed Martin but including parts made in several other countries, has been sold to a number of nations, including the UK, Japan, Italy, Turkey and South Korea. Because of the ongoing investigation, he said he had no comment on the specifics of the flight disruption.

The F-35 programme has been hit by numerous delays, cost overruns and setbacks, including a mysterious engine fire in 2014 that also led to commanders temporarily grounding the aircraft. But the problem has already been identified as faulty fuel tubes. Once these are checked or replaced the aircraft will be back in the air. It represents a step-change in capability but the F-35's complexity has inevitably thrown up problems.

Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 program, said: "The action to perform the inspection is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina".

However there is no going back now.

It wasn't immediately clear how many aircraft were affected.

In April, a Marine Corps F-35B out the Marine Corps air station at Cherry Point, North Carolina, was forced to make an emergency landing when the aircraft fuel light came on.

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