U.S. Air Force and Navy airworthiness authorities yesterday approved the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter fleet returning to limited flight, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a DoD release.
Kirby said a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope will remain in effect until investigators can determine the root cause of a June 23 engine fire on the runway at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and correct the problem.
“This information is an encouraging step, but no final decision has been made at this time,” he said, adding that safety remains the overriding priority.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters last week at an Eglin AFB press conference that “inspections are complete. And I got a good report this morning from some of the pilots and the maintenance people, as I noted, on their thinking about this. What they’re doing now is they’re taking all the information that they got from the inspections and they’re putting all that together and continuing the overall investigation to see, how does this all match up and what do we have?”
The fleet was grounded July 3, threatening a long-awaited appearance by the F-35 at the Farnborough International Airshow in England. Kirby said officials remain hopeful that the F-35 can make an appearance at Farnborough. The F-35 has already missed a planned flyover at the July 4 naming ceremony for HMS Queen Elizabeth, from which Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35s are expected to fly, and an appearance at the Royal International Air Tattoo that was held July 11-13.