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Pentagon Suspends F-35 Flights After Blade Cracks

The Pentagon said it has suspended all flights of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter after a routine engine inspection revealed a crack on a turbine blade in a test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The suspension is a “precautionary measure” until an investigation is completed and the cause of the blade crack is understood, the Pentagon’s F-35 program office said today in an e-mailed statement. The Defense Department is working with Lockheed and United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit, which makes the plane’s engine, in its inquiry, according to the 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,” Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, said in an e-mailed statement.

The F-35, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, has been plagued by a costly redesign, bulkhead cracks, excessive weight and delays in software that have helped put it seven years behind schedule. The cost of the program’s 2,443 aircraft is now estimated at $395.7 billion, a 70 percent increase since 2001.

The Marine Corps version of the F-35 was grounded last month after a pilot aborted a takeoff because of a flaw in the Pratt & Whitney propulsion system. Those planes resumed flying this month after the problem was traced to an improperly crimped fluid hose.

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