Flights of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 will be allowed to resume, the U.S. Defense Department said, ending a suspension that grounded the fleet after the discovery of a cracked engine blade in one of the stealth jets.
The affected engine had been subjected to “prolonged exposure to high levels of heat and other operational stresses” in testing, the Pentagon F-35 office said today in a statement.
Inspections of other F-35 fighter jets didn’t find any other “cracks or signs of similar engine stress,” and no redesign will be needed for the engines built by United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit, according to the 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 flight suspension was ordered Feb. 22 after a routine engine inspection revealed a crack in a turbine blade on a test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The grounding was undertaken as a “precautionary measure,” the Pentagon’s F-35 office said that day in a statement.
The decision to end the suspension came after Pratt & Whitney recommended that flight operations be restored.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, earlier today received a $333.7 million down payment to buy initial parts, components and materials for an eighth batch of F-35s, as the Pentagon locked in the funds hours before automatic U.S. budget cuts were set to take effect.
The action exempts the funds from the across-the-board spending reductions known as sequestration that begin tomorrow, because Pentagon officials have said contracts with obligated dollars won’t be cut or terminated. The eighth contract calls for 35 jets, including four aircraft for the U.K. and two for Norway, according to a Pentagon statement.