WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials are holding out hope that the F-35 can participate in the world’s most important air show this week, but no final decisions have been made, according to officials.
The aircraft had been scheduled to make an appearance at the Farnborough International Airshow in England on Monday, but DOD had to cancel because of lingering safety concerns.
“It would have been a wonderful thing to have those airplanes here so the rest of the world could see that it’s not a paper airplane, that it’s really a technological marvel. [But] we’re not giving up yet,” Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the program executive officer for the F-35 program, said at a press conference Monday.
The air show runs through Sunday. Bogdan said DOD still has “a few more days left” to get clearance to send the jet to the U.K in time to participate, Bogdan said.
Air show officials had announced that the planes would be there this week, and Naval Air Station Patuxent River officials said on Facebook that four F-35s are scheduled to depart Tuesday en route to the U.K. But DOD officials subsequently said the issue has yet to be decided.
The entire F-35 fleet has been grounded since July 3 based on the initial findings from an investigation into a June 23 incident at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla, when a fire broke out on the back end of one of the aircraft during takeoff.
Officials suspected a problem with the plane’s engine. Inspections of the fleet’s engines are complete, but the aircraft has not yet been cleared for takeoff, according to officials.
“We’re not going to put the F-35 in the air, send it anywhere until we are absolutely convinced and know that it’s safe to fly,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters last week during a visit to Eglin.
Farnborough is the preeminent air show for industry and defense officials promoting their latest hardware. About 90 government delegations are slated to appear, as well as hundreds of contractors and subcontractors, according to BBC News.
If the F-35 is a no-show, it would be an embarrassment for Lockheed Martin — the prime contractor — and the Pentagon. International sales are seen by DOD as a way to share the financial burden of developing and fielding the new system. The foreign market as also a lucrative business opportunity for Lockheed.
A number of U.S. allies and partners, including the U.K., are slated to purchase large numbers of F-35s for their militaries. But countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada have curtailed their orders or are in the process of re-evaluating the number of F-35s that they are going to buy. Others nations have expressed interest in the plane but have not made any procurement commitments.
DOD is clearly concerned about foreign perceptions of the F-35s safety issues.
“[Hagel’s] visit [to Eglin], particularly at this time, sends a strong message to our international partners that the United States remains fully committed to the F-35 program,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said last week.