Pentagon officials have given Lockheed Martin’s F-35 a green light for limited flight during the week of the advanced multi-purpose fighter’s scheduled international debut at the Farnborough Air Show in the U.K. this week.
Tuesday’s approval comes almost two weeks after the entire F-35 fleet was grounded in response to the runway fire of an F-35A moments before takeoff, and was given days into the air show that could host the jet’s first world demonstration before a host of potential international buyers. (RELATED: Entire F-35 Fleet Quietly Grounded Ahead Of July 4 Holiday)
Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby said Air Force and Navy officials gave the fleet limited clearance, which mandates engine inspections and enforces in-flight restrictions, though the specific details were not announced.
No decision has yet been made about the air show specifically, but Kirby and officials are hopeful.
The jet’s July 4 absence in the naming ceremony of the H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth — the British Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier — the U.K.’s Royal International Air Tattoo last week and the first few days of the Farnborough show have disappointed the Pentagon, which is counting on international allies to buy some 3,000 F-35s in order to keep the program’s $399 billion price tag from going any higher.
“It would be great for the jets to come to the Farnborough Air Show so the audience here can see the capabilities the F-35 brings to the U.S. and our partners,” Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates said in a Reuters report. Pratt & Whitney developed the revolutionary short vertical-landing and takeoff engine that powers all three Joint Strike Fighter models.
Executives from companies involved in the Joint Strike program traveled to the U.K. for the show, where four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B’s are set to fly from a Maryland air base as soon as they’re cleared.
The jets will fly along the North-American coast and past Greenland before flying to Europe, according to sources cited by Reuters. Officials must first determine whether or not the flight plan will violate the approved flight limitations.
The cause of the June 23 runway incident has yet to be determined, but Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall reported Monday a lack of any similar problems found in the other 98 engines currently in service, and the lifted flight ban is being interpreted as an indication that the fire was an isolated incident, and not a reflection of a systemic design flaw.
Pentagon and Pratt & Whitley officials emphasized the jet was still in its testing phase, where problems are meant to be uncovered and addressed.
Air Force Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan said Monday that U.S. officials were “not giving up” on flying the F-35 to the U.K.