WASHINGTON — Air Force and Navy air worthiness authorities have given the green light for the F-35 fleet to return to flight, but the aircraft won’t be able to participate in the world’s preeminent international air show in England this week, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
“The Department of Defense, in concert with our partners in the U.K., has decided not to send Marine Corps … F-35B aircraft across the Atlantic to participate in the Farnborough airshow,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.
Although DOD announced Tuesday that the plane had been cleared for takeoff, it still faces restrictions.
“This is a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope which will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23 engine mishap is identified and corrected,” Kirby said in an earlier statement.
Kirby said that one of the restrictions in place is a requirement that each front fan section of the plane’s engine be inspected after three hours of flight time.
“That was a pretty significant limitation in terms of being able to fly them across the Atlantic,” Kirby said.
“While we’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to participate in the air show, we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capability to allies and partners,” Kirby said.
The entire F-35 fleet had been grounded since July 3 after an F-35 caught fire at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during an aborted takeoff on June 23. The incident led authorities to conduct engine inspections on all F-35s.
Frank Kendall, the top acquisition official at the Pentagon, has said that the fire at Eglin was due to excessive friction between blades in the engine’s low-pressure turbine and the surrounding cowl, which caused one of the engine blades to fail. He has also said that early indications suggest that the engine problem is not systemic.
The Farnborough International Airshow is the most high-profile 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. The Pentagon and contractor Lockheed Martin were hoping to show off the F-35 at the event.
“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,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the head of the F-35 program office.