The F-35s have been grounded so that fuel tubes located within their engines can be inspected and replaced, if need be. Air Force photo by SSgt. Corey Hook.
The Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and all international operators on Wednesday grounded the entire F-35 fleet for a safety inspection following last month’s crash of a USMC F-35B. The grounding is expected to last 24 to 48 hours, according to the joint program office.
The F-35B, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, crashed Sept. 28 and the pilot was able to safely eject. In a Thursday morning statement, the JPO said all F-35 flights have been suspended while officials conduct a full inspection of a fuel tube located within the strike fighter’s engine. If a suspect fuel tube is installed, it will be replaced. If the fuel tubes are determined to be in “good” condition, the aircraft will return to flight, according to the program office.
“The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents,” the JPO said in the statement. “We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain, and modernize the F-35 for the warfighter and our defense partners.”
This is at least the third F-35 grounding for the Air Force within about two years. In June 2017, the Air Force grounded its fleet after pilots reported physiological incidents during flight, and in September 2016, the Air Force grounded 15 of its aircraft because of insulation problems. The Defense Department also grounded its entire F-35 fleet in 2014 after an F-35A’s engine caught fire at Eglin AFB, Fla. A DOD investigation found that the incident was “isolated,” and caused by faulty engine fans.
Wednesday’s grounding comes shortly after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy to increase readiness rates of the F-35 fleet, along with other fighter aircraft, to 80 percent.
Read an Oct. 15 story update here.