Lockheed F-35 Fire Probe Finds No Sign of Systemic Flaws

U.S. defense officials see no broad safety issues with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter after an engine fire forced the grounding of the fleet, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief said.

“From the evidence we have so far we don’t see at this point what I would call systemic difficulties,” U.S. Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said today in a briefing in London ahead of the Farnborough International Airshow.

The plane won’t resume flying until it’s deemed to be airworthy, Kendall said. He said the June 23 blaze on a U.S. Air Force F-35 was caused by “rubbing between some blades of the engine and the cowl around them.”

The grounding means the F-35 will miss tomorrow’s start of the aviation industry’s biggest expo, a setback for Lockheed as the U.S. pushes to expand export sales of a model built for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Air-show organizers said today the F-35 may appear later this week.

“Everyone involved in the project is working towards a positive result for attendance at the airshow,” according to a statement.

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 Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed was signed in 2001.

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