U.S. Military grounds F-35 fleet after runway fire

The F-35 warplane has been temporarily grounded again following a runway fire at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The incident is under investigation and it is unclear when they might fly again. Neither the pilot nor anyone else was injured.

CNN reported that Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever was developed at a cost of $400 billion thus far and has been overcome for years by cost overruns and delays.

“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,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Engine maker Pratt & Whitney and lead contractor Lockheed Martin are working with investigators. Both are involved in the development of the planes. Neither provided further comments.

The military says the stealthy fighter will be “the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used” by so many services worldwide but its production has been extremely controversial due to soaring costs, schedule delays and software setbacks.

While all models have been grounded in the past for different issues, the version for the Marines, the F-35B, has had more problems. Experts say that’s mainly due to its design for shorter takeoffs and vertical landings.

Richard Aboulafia, a Teal Group analyst, said every component of the F-35 overall “is pushing the frontiers of technology” as engineers combine extraordinary engine power with a lighter weight design.

He said the program has made steady progress in recent years where problems appear to get resolved more quickly compared to 24 months ago, when setbacks seemed to come one right after another. “It’s a tremendously complex project,” he said, adding that cost issues remain a concern.

The F-35 is scheduled to make a heavily publicized appearance in Hampshire, England at the International Air Show. Aboulafia said a no-show could indicate a more serious problem with the engine.

According to Fox News, a battle raged on Capitol Hill in 2010 and 2011 over whether to fund a reserve engine. President Obama and top military brass objected, stating they wanted to keep the F-35 budget as lean as possible.

Several lawmakers, whose districts would have benefited monetarily from the backup engine project, pushed for a GE engine. But ultimately, a majority of House Republicans and Democrats joined together to eliminate the reserve engine contract.


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