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F-35 Flight Ban Should Be Lifted, Pratt & Whitney Says

United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit has recommended that the Pentagon lift a flight suspension that grounded the F-35 fighter fleet over a cracked engine blade.

The Defense Department’s F-35 program office “is currently assessing our recommendation to return the fleet to flight,” Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said today in an e-mail.

The Pentagon said Feb. 22 that it suspended all flights of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 after a routine engine inspection revealed a crack on a turbine blade in a test aircraft engine at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Pratt & Whitney makes the engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, the costliest U.S. weapon system.

The Pentagon and the military services are reviewing the recommendation, according to Kyra Hawn, a spokeswoman for the F-35 program office.

Military flight experts will determine after an analysis of the Pratt & Whitney data “how and when to restore ground and flight operations,” she said.

The blade in question was in an engine “subjected to more flight hours and wear than aircraft of comparable age,” Hawn said.

Cost estimates for the F-35 have ballooned to $395.7 billion, a 70 percent increase since 2001. The aircraft program may face cutbacks because of sequestration, the across-the-board federal budget reductions scheduled to begin taking effect tomorrow.

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