Airmen from the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit on May 28 look over the 26th and final F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (Senior Airman Christopher Callawat /Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The European debut of the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter is now in question after the Pentagon grounded the entire fleet late Thursday based on the initial findings of an investigation into a fire that broke out on one of the jets last month.
The Defense Department says it is still making preparations to send the jet to the Farnborough International Airshow and Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK, but would not make a final decision until “early next week.”
The Pentagon says it is still investigating the cause of the June 23 fire the broke out in the rear of an Air Force F-35 during takeoff at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
DoD temporarily grounded the F-35 fleet and ordered inspections of all jets before returning the aircraft to flight testing.
“The root cause of the incident remains under investigation,” DoD said in emailed statement late Thursday.
“Additional inspections of F-35 engines have been ordered, and return to flight will be determined based on inspection results and analysis of engineering data,” the statement reads. “Defense Department leadership supports this prudent approach.”
“We are working closely with the Air Force Safety Investigation Board to determine root cause and to inspect all engines in the fleet,” Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said in a company statement. “Safety is our top priority. Since the incident is the subject of an investigation it is inappropriate to comment further.”
A spokesman for Lockheed was not immediately available for comment.