The United States Department of Defense has suspended flying its Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets due to the need to inspect fuel tubes within the aircraft’s engines.
“The US services and international partners have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while the enterprise conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft,” the Department said in a statement on Thursday (US time), according to multiple media reports.
“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status. Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”
The decision comes after a US Marine Corps F-35B crashed in South Carolina near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in late September. The pilot ejected safely and there were no injuries.
The Department statement said initial data from the ongoing investigation of that accident had led to the decision to ground the fleet.
The US Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are all operators of the F-35, as well as allies including Australia, Israel, Japan and the United Kingdom.
About 300 F-35s have now been delivered and are in service around the world.
The UK Ministry of Defence said on Twitter it had paused some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure but not all aircraft had been grounded.
Contrary to reports, all F-35 jets have not been grounded. We have paused some F-35 flying as a precautionary measure while we consider the findings of an ongoing enquiry. Flight trials from @HMSQnlz continue and the programme remains on schedule #F35 @thef35 pic.twitter.com/yOOpSAFxZ0
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) October 11, 2018
In early September, the RAAF took delivery of its ninth F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. The aircraft, A35-0009, was the first to be taken on strength by its first operational flying unit to fly the jet, No 3 Squadron.
3SQN pilots and maintenance personnel are currently training on the F-35 with the US Air Force’s 56th Fighter Wing at Luke. The squadron is due to bring the first two jets to Australia in mid-December for a ‘Verification & Validation Testing’ program and to allow in-country F-35 maintenance training to begin.
Earlier RAAF F-35As are flying with the 56th Fighter Wing as part of the International F-35A Pilot Training Center.
Australia has committed to buying 72 F-35As under Project AIR 6000 Phases 2A/2B, which are scheduled to be delivered by 2023 to replace the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B Hornets.
RAAF Initial Operational Capability with the F-35A is planned for December 2020.
The official Twitter account of the F-35 Lighting II said acceptance flights were continuing after inspections were completed.
We’ve completed inspections and acceptance flights are resuming at the Lockheed Martin Fort Worth facility. https://t.co/o8tRACAlDM
— F-35 Lightning II (@thef35) October 11, 2018
Lockheed Martin said it was working with the F-35’s Joint Program Office on the matter.
“We are actively partnering with the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, our global customers and Pratt & Whitney to support the resolution of this issue and limit disruption to the fleet,” Lockheed Martin said, according to media reports.