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Pentagon bars F-35s from Farnborough airshow after engine problems

Published time: July 15, 2014 20:48
An F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (Reuters / Randy Gon)

An F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (Reuters / Randy Gon)

Despite the United States Department of Defense’s decision this week to clear for flight all jets in its fleet of F-35s, the stealth fighter won’t make its debut at a UK airshow as expected.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, a DOD spokesperson, told reporters on Tuesday that the Pentagon has decided to refrain from sending Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fighter jets abroad.

Previously, the planes were expected to make an appearance at the Farnborough air show this week in an attempt to dazzle potential buyers, but an engine fire onboard one of the jets forced the Pentagon last month to ground its entire fleet.

The F-35s were originally intended to be displayed at the UK’s Royal International Air Tattoo (RITA) show last week, but the Pentagon did not clear the fleet for flight until Monday this week when it was announced that Navy and Air Force officials had granted limited flight clearance, allowing the aircraft to fly with an engine inspection regimen and restricted flight envelope, according to CNN, which Rear Arm. Kirby acknowledged as being “an encouraging step.”

Nevertheless, Kirby told reporters early Tuesday that the partial lifting of restrictions wasn’t enough to green-light the fleet for a trip to Farnborough. The limited flight status will now “remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23 engine mishap is identified and corrected,” Kirby added.

"The Department of Defense, in concert with our partners in the UK, has decided not to send Marine Corps and UK F-35B aircraft across the Atlantic to participate in the Farnborough air show," he told reporters. "This decision was reached after a consultation with senior leaders and airworthiness authorities, despite the decision by airworthiness authorities to clear the aircraft to return to flight -- to limited flight."

“While we were looking forward to the F-35 demonstration at Farnborough, we understand and support the” decision, Lockheed Martin said in a statement given to the Washington Post on Wednesday.

When all is said and done, the F-35 program is expected to be the most costly weapons endeavor undertaken by the US military. Despite years of investments and billions of dollars’ worth of research, however, last month’s grounding of the fleet marked the eighth time the jets’ operations were suspended by the Pentagon in the last few years, all as costs continue to escalate beyond expectations. The Government Accountability Office has previously determined that the program will in all cost $1 trillion, and delays and extra expenses have already prompted some countries to reconsider purchasing the planes.