The U.S. military grounded its entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp. as a safety precaution after a fire on one of the planes prompted an aborted takeoff.
The Navy and Marine Corps versions of the jets were taken out of service, the Defense Department said in a statement yesterday, a week after the Air Force halted flights. Engine inspection results will determine when the jets can fly again, according to the statement.
The actions are a blow to the F-35, the costliest U.S. weapons system, which is being built while it remains under development.
Defense Department officials acted after an emergency at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on June 23, when a fire in the rear of one plane forced the pilot to abort a takeoff. The cause is under investigation, according to the statement.
“Lockheed Martin is working closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office and industry partners in supporting” the investigation, company spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement. “Any further questions should be directed to the Joint Program Office.”
A decision will be made early next week on whether the F-35 can participate in international airshows in the U.K. this month, the Pentagon said in its statement. The Defense Department and Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed are counting on international sales to help pay the costs of the jet.
The F-35 has been plagued by a costly redesign, bulkhead cracks, excessive weight and delays in software. Building all 2,443 planes is projected to cost $398.6 billion, a 71 percent increase in inflation-adjusted dollars since the contract with Lockheed, the largest U.S. defense contractor, was signed in 2001.