F-35 fleet grounded by Pentagon after fire

The Pentagon on Thursday grounded the entire F-35 Lightning II fleet just days before the advanced fighter jet was supposed to make its international debut in Britain, according to a release.

The order came two weeks after one of the jets caught fire late last month as it was preparing to take off at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, forcing the pilot to abort the flight. No one was injured, but it forced the Air Force and the Navy to temporarily suspend flights. The Marine Corps, however, resumed flying its version of the aircraft, the F-35B, which is scheduled to fly at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough Air Show in Britain later this month.

Late last week, officials said they were still making preparations for the debut, which was seen as a prime opportunity to showcase the F-35 to more foreign governments. But now that appears in jeopardy.

In the statement, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that the “root cause of the incident remains under investigation. 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.”

He added that “preparations continue for F-35 participation in international air shows in the United Kingdom, however a final decision will come early next week.”

The June 23 fire might have caused damage to the aircraft’s stealth coating, officials have said, making it the first possible Class A mishap — incidents that cause $1 million in damage or more.

The F-35 is manufactured by Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin.

Christian Davenport covers federal contracting for The Post's Financial desk. He joined The Post in 2000 and has served as an editor on the Metro desk and as a reporter covering military affairs. He is the author of "As You Were: To War and Back with the Black Hawk Battalion of the Virginia National Guard."
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