* Navy official wants to check company's quality practices
* Not clear how long additional inspections will take
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 The Pentagon is inspecting
other components of the F-35 fighter jet in addition to the
faulty fuel lines blamed for the grounding of the Marine Corps
version of the warplane, two sources familiar with the program
said on Friday.
Vice Admiral David Dunaway, head of Naval Air Systems
Command, asked for the expanded "material audit" this week after
being briefed on plans by the Pentagon's F-35 program to resume
training and test flights of the F-35B, the sources said.
"There's too much at stake here," said one of the sources,
who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The grounding of the F-35B has raised questions about the
ability of the $396 billion Joint Strike Fighter program to keep
up with an aggressive flight test schedule for this year.
Dunaway wanted to be certain that other components made by
Stratoflex, a unit of Parker Hannifin Corp, for the
Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet did not have the
same problems as the fuel lines.
"He wants to assess the company's quality assurance
practices and make sure they are doing business the right way,"
said the source.
Dunaway's office was not immediately available to comment.
It was not immediately clear how long the additional
inspections would take and when the B-model would be cleared to
start flying again. Dunaway is responsible for approving flights
of the F-35Bs used for training, while the Pentagon's F-35
program office is responsible for approving test flights.
"This is a prudent step which will help to ensure that when
we're ready to return to flight we do so with confidence," said
a second source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The Pentagon this week began shipping fuel lines made by
Stratoflex for CT scanning by an independent company in
Minnesota after it determined improper crimping had caused a
fuel line to detach just before a training flight at a Florida
Air Force base on Jan. 18, resulting in a grounding of the
entire fleet of 25 F-35 B-model planes.
The Pentagon on Monday blamed the problem on faulty
manufacturing, not the component's design or maintenance, and
said both enginemaker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United
Technologies Corp, and its subcontractor, Britain's
Rolls-Royce, were taking steps to beef up their
quality control procedures.
Stratoflex is a subcontractor to Rolls Royce.
U.S. military officials had already decided to have all the
affected fuel lines produced by Stratoflex inspected using CT
scans since problems could not be easily detected otherwise, but
Dunaway decided to have other components made by the company
inspected as well.
No comment was immediately available from Parker Hannifin,
the parent company of Stratoflex.
Earlier this week, a Parker Hannifan spokeswoman said the
company makes many other components for the aircraft and was
working around the clock to support the Pentagon investigation.
Lockheed is building three different models of the F-35
fighter jet for the U.S. military and eight countries that
helped pay for its development: Britain, Canada, Italy, Turkey,
Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Norway.
The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 of the warplanes in coming
decades, although many analysts believe U.S. budget constraints
and deficits will eventually reduce that overall number.