All U.S. operations remain dormant since a fire broke out in an F-35A preparing for takeoff this week, but this is not expected – at least for now – to affect the timing of the aircraft’s debut in the U.K. next month.
"We will resume flying once we know more about the cause of the F-35A fire that occurred at Eglin AFB [Florida] earlier this week," says Capt. Rich Ulsh, a service spokesman. Plans to transit four F-35Bs over the Atlantic Ocean for their international debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough International Air Show next month have not been changed, he said. The first flight window for the single-engine, stealthy F-35s to cross is June 29. The four F-35Bs are expected to depart from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, and fly directly with the help of two KC-10s toFairford, England.
What could be affected are internal timelines for the four aircraft to meet at Patuxent River in advance of the departure.
The Air Force has also issued a "stand-down" on flight operations for its F-35As at Eglin that are used for training, as well as Dutch A models at Eglin, says 1st Lt. Hope Cronin, spokeswoman for the 33rd Fighter Wing, which operates them. The fire incident occurred early June 23 as an F-35A pilot was preparing for takeoff. The pilot egressed safely and the fire was extinguished with foam.
Navy officials did not say whether they have fully stood down operations; they are still assessing the situation.
In general, officials bristle at the insinuation that the jets are "grounded," a word that bears significant weight in terms of military requirements. Air Force officials had hoped to return to flight early June 25, but there have been no F-35A flights since the fire incident.
The F-35A that was damaged in the fire was towed to a hangar June 23 and secured along with any foreign object debris found on the runway at the time of the incident, and a safety investigation board has been initiated. Cronin said the extent of damage has not yet been assessed.
Removing the aircraft was a priority as Eglin shares a runway with the Northwest Florida Regional Airport.
A safety investigation team arrived today and is beginning to assess data related to the fire, according to Maj. Jennifer Spires, a spokeswoman for the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command. "Until we have full confidence" command leadership will assess the fleet’s fitness to return to flight on a daily basis, she says.
It is too early to know yet if specific inspections will be needed for the F-35As to resume flying operations.