The U.S. Dept. of Defense ordered a temporary halt to all flight operations for F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft until a fleet-wide inspection is completed of potentially faulty engine tubes. "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," according to a statement from the Pentagon's F-35 office.
Update: On October 15 the U.S. Dept. of Defense stated that more than 80% of all F-35 jets in service for U.S. and allied services have had their engines inspected and have been approved to resume flight operations.
More than 320 F-35s have entered service since the program launched in 2006. Reportedly, the inspections were to be completed within two days.
The inspections were prompted by a crash of an F-35B aircraft in South Carolina, in September. The pilot ejected safely prior to the crash.
The F-35 is a single-engine, Stealth-enabled aircraft designed for deployment for ground attack and combat, available in three variants: F-35A, for conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL); F-35B, for short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL); and the F-35C carrier-based variant for Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant.
The aircraft’s primary contractor is Lockheed Martin Corp., and the F-135 engine that powers it is supplied by Pratt & Whitney.
"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," according to a Lockheed Martin statement.
The F-35 program has been widely criticized for its production and operating costs. The fleet-wide inspection is likely to add to the program critics’ list of objections. Earlier this month, the Defense Dept. and Lockheed Martin agreed to terms on the cost for the next series of F-35s, following protracted negotiations and a preliminary deal reached in mid-summer. The agreement is worth a reported $11.5 billion, but cuts unit costs for all three models of the F-35, allowing the Pentagon and the program’s primary contractor to proceed with long-term purchase plans for the program.