The Department of Defense says the majority of F-35 fighter planes have been “cleared and returned to flight operations” following a “mishap” on September 28th, in which an F-35 crashed in South Carolina, injuring the pilot. The fleet of fighter jets had been grounded pending inspections and replacement of suspect fuel tubes.
The Pentagon has cleared the fleet of F-35 fighter jets to resume flying for the first time since the planes were grounded in the wake of a September 28th crash outside of Beaufort, South Carolina. The resulting accident investigation uncovered concerns about the integrity of sections of the aircrafts’ fuel tubes. Nearly the entire fleet of F-35s was grounded pending inspections and replacement of suspect fuel tubes in all of the affected aircraft.
“After completing inspections, more than 80 percent of operational F-35s have been cleared and returned to flight operations,” the F-35 Joint Program Office said in a statement released on Monday. “All U.S. services and international partners have resumed flying with their cleared aircraft … More than 1500 suppliers are on the F-35 program and this is an isolated incident which is quickly being addressed and fixed. Safety is our primary goal, and we will continue to take every measure to ensure safe operations while we execute our mission … The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents.”
According to officials, the existing inventory of “good” fuel tubes was enough to allow nearly half of the impacted fighters to return to service right away while the remaining aircraft are expected to be cleared in the coming weeks. Military contractor Pratt & Whitney is said to be “rapidly procuring more parts to minimize the overall repair timeline for the remaining jets.” The F-35 Joint Program command also notes, “The issue is not expected to impact F-35 deliveries and the program remains on track to meet its target of 91 aircraft for the year.”
The accident that led to the grounding and mandatory inspections resulted in the pilot ejecting from the single-seat Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft before it crashed on a small island near the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The pilot reportedly ejected safely and was evacuated by medics and listed in stable condition shortly after the mishap.