The discovery of a crack on an engine blade has led the US Department of Defense to ground its fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The “cautionary suspension of flight” follows the discovery of the crack on an F135 engine installed in an F-35A test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base during a routine engine inspection.
“The F-35 Joint Program Office is working closely with Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin at all F-35 locations to ensure the integrity of the engine, and to return the fleet safely to flight as soon as possible,” the Defense Department said in a statement. The statement notes that it is “too early to know the fleetwide impact” of the grounding.
The affected engine is being sent to manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s facilities in Connecticut for a “more thorough evaluation and root cause analysis”.
Lockheed Martin said in a statement: “Safety is always our first consideration, and the joint inspection team is focused on ensuring the integrity of the engines across the entire fleet so the F-35s can safely return to flight as soon as possible.”
The grounding comes at the end of a week of bad publicity for the F-35 program in Australia, after the ABC’s Four Corners program aired a highly critical report on the aircraft.
Senior F-35 officials will be attending next week’s Avalon Airshow near Melbourne, including F-35 Joint Program Office chief Lt Gen Chris Bogdan and Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of F-35 business development.