The F-35 Joint Program Office has announced Thursday that it would ground F-35 variants worldwide after one of the aircraft crashed late last month near Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in South Carolina.
The temporary grounding by the U.S. military and its allied partners will accompany inspections on the aircraft, looking for “suspect fuel tubes,” in the aircraft’s engine, which is produced by Pratt & Whitney, the JPO said in a news release.
The reviews was prompted by the crash of a F-35B aircraft on Sept 28 during which the pilot of the aircraft was able to eject safely before the impact.
“The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents,” the statement said. “We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernize the F-35 for the warfighter and our defense partners.”
F-35B is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II, which is considered as the most expensive weapon program in American military history. While the F-35 jet has experienced minor mishaps in the past, this was the first time an aircraft has crashed. In April, a Marine F-35B was forced to make an emergency landing at Cherry Point, North Carolina, after the aircraft began leaking fuel.
The crash came a day after the first combat strike of a USMC F-35B in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. The strike was in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan and was conducted on Sept. 27.
The F-35B variant also conducted its first landing and takeoff on board UK Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 25. More than 500 take-offs and landings were scheduled from the warship over the period of 11 weeks. The trials are expected to be suspended temporarily due to the grounding.