An F-35A Lightning II taxis across the flight line at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in May. (Senior Airman Christopher Callaway/Air Force)
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An F-35A was damaged in a “significant fire” Monday morning while on the runway at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The pilot was not injured and was able to safely egress the aircraft after bringing it to a stop and shutting down the engine at about 9:15 a.m., Eglin spokeswoman 1st Lt. Hope Cronin said. The pilot, an instructor pilot with the 58th Fighter Squadron, was taking off as part of a two-ship formation for a continuation training mission, she said.
The fire originated in the tail of the aircraft. Emergency crews were able to extinguish the fire, which is under investigation. No details on the extent of damage to the aircraft were available, Cronin said.
The Florida base is home to all F-35 instructor pilot training, including for the F-35B and F-35C variants of other services and other nations. The 33rd Fighter Wing recently passed its 5,000th sortie in the F-35, with no large-scale mishaps until this one.
Last February, the Defense Department grounded all F-35s for about a week after a crack was found in the engine of the Marine Corps F-35B variant. An investigation found that heat cracked a blade in the engine of the aircraft.
The Air Force expects to buy 1,763 F-35As, with initial operating capability expected by late 2016. The Defense Department expects the sustainment cost for the F-35 program to be about $857 billion, with Lockheed officials saying the cost for one F-35A is less than $100 million.
The Air Force recently stood up the main F-35A training program at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, which will eventually have 144 F-35As. The Air Force’s first operational base, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, will have 72 F-35As. The first Air National Guard base, Burlington Air Guard Station, Vermont, will eventually receive 18 F-35As beginning in 2020.