| WASHINGTON, June 26
WASHINGTON, June 26 The U.S. Air Force widened a
ban on flights of Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 A-model
fighter jets on Thursday as authorities continue to investigate
a fire on one of the jets this week, but the Navy and Marine
Corps stopped short of a similar blanket move ahead of the
plane's international debut next month.
"As a precautionary measure, the Air Force has decided to
temporarily suspend all F-35A operations until it is determined
that flights can resume safely," Air Force spokeswoman Major
Natasha Waggoner said in a statement.
She said the Air Force decision would ensure the safety of
its crews and aircraft while authorities determine if there was
a fleet-wide issue that needs to be addressed.
Monday's fire was initially described as a "one-off"
incident, but concerns have grown given the dearth of
information from an Air Force-led probe into the "significant
fire" that broke out in the rear of an F-35A jet and forced its
pilot to abort a takeoff on Monday morning.
The incident came days before Marine Corps B-model jets were
due to fly to Britain for the jet's closely watched
international premiere, and as Canada neared a decision on how
to replace its aging fleet of Boeing Co F/A-18 fighter
It followed mandatory inspections of all 97 F-35 jets
ordered earlier this month after an F-35B suffered an oil leak
in flight. All but three jets resumed flights within days of
Defense officials said some details from an initial
assessment of the fire could emerge later on Thursday.
Analyst Richard Aboulafia with the Teal Group said the
incident would have little impact if it was resolved quickly.
"But if it persists, and if some kind of system redesign work is
needed, that could impact budget and program plans," he said.
U.S. Navy spokeswoman Lieutenant Jackie Pau said local
commanders had suspended flights of some B- and C-model F-35
jets, but officials were waiting for initial assessments from
investigators before deciding whether to halt all flights.
The Marine Corps had planned to ferry B-model jets to an air
base in southern Maryland this week to prepare for their flights
to Britain, which is one of the key partners that helped fund
development of the new multinational warplane.
The F-35 is due to appear at two air shows in Britain next
month and make a brief appearance at the naming ceremony for
Britain's new aircraft carrier on July 4, weather permitting.
Marine Corps spokesman Captain Richard Ulsh said F-35B
flights would resume once more data was available about the
cause of the fire. He said there were no changes at the moment
to the Marine Corps' plans to send planes to Britain.
F-35 program spokeswoman Kyra Hawn said the flight
suspensions fell short of a formal grounding order. "As more
information becomes available, airworthiness authorities at the
services will determine what steps to take."
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)