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An F-35A Lightning II taxis across the flightline on Eglin Air Force Base, May 28, 2014.

An F-35A Lightning II taxis across the flightline on Eglin Air Force Base, May 28, 2014. (Christopher Callaway/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force on Friday grounded 13 of its new F-35A aircraft after discovering that insulation around coolant lines inside the fuel tanks was peeling and crumbling. Two F-35As belonging to Norway were also grounded with the same damaged lines, the Air Force said.

The faulty insulation was found just weeks after the Air Force brought its first F-35A stealth fighters online in August.

Air Force personnel conducting routine maintenance discovered the problem, which affects 57 aircraft – including 42 in production in Fort Worth, Texas.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the problem stemmed from faulty parts from one of two subcontractors used by Lockheed Martin.

The grounded aircraft are at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The Norway planes were being used for training in the United States.

Stefanek said the problem was detected early and did not pose any danger. Had the insulation eroded, coolant could have tainted the fuel supply.

The Air Force said in a statement that engineers are developing procedures to resolve or mitigate the issue before the aircraft are returned to the field, but downplayed the problem.

“While nearing completion, the F-35 is still in development and challenges are to be expected,” the Air Force statement said. “The F-35 program has a proven track record of solving issues as they arise and we’re confident we’ll continue to do so.”

Development of the F-35 has taken years longer than anticipated, and cost billions more than projected.

cahn.dianna Twitter: @DiannaCahn

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