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F-35As grounded at Eglin after Monday's fire

Jun. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
33rd Fight Wing/F-35 Lightning
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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Flights of F-35A fighters are grounded Tuesday at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, one day after a “significant fire” damaged one of the aircraft during takeoff.

The planes are grounded while officials investigate the cause of the fire. The base expects that the initial investigation will last one day, and that the aircraft will be cleared to resume flights Wednesday.

Other variants of the aircraft, the F-35B and F-35C, are not flying Tuesday, but that is due to “unfriendly weather” in Florida rather than concerns about the aircraft, Eglin spokeswoman 1st Lt. Hope Cronin said.

At about 9:15 a.m. Monday, fire broke out on the aft end of an F-35A piloted by an instructor pilot, who was taking off as part of a two-ship formation for a continuation training mission. The pilot was able to stop the jet, shut down the engine and egress safely. There were no injuries, and emergency crews were able to extinguish the fire.

Eglin officials do not have more information about the nature or extent of the damage to the aircraft “as the investigation is currently underway and it would be premature to speculate about those items at this point,” Cronin said.

The base also has not released the tail number of the affected aircraft.

Eglin 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.

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