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Pentagon clears 80 percent of F-35 jets to fly after faulty fuel tubes grounded entire fleet

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Ariz., stopped at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska en route to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, Jan. 12, 2017. (Staff Sgt. Mike Campbell/U.S Air Force)
October 15, 2018

After grounding its entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets, the Pentagon has just cleared most F-35s to resume operations.

The F-35 Joint Program Office at the Pentagon confirmed that approximately 80 percent of “single-seat, single-engine jets” have resumed operations after fleet-wide inspections to assess the aircrafts’ fuel tubes, NBC News reported Monday.

Jets found to have no fuel tube issues were cleared to fly, while those who presented fuel tube problems underwent maintenance for replacement of the fuel tube.

The military operates more than 240 F-35 fighter jets, all of which were grounded last week for mandatory inspections after the Sept. 28 crash of a Marine Corps F-35B near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.

Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon’s F-35 office, confirmed the inspections on Thursday, and said they “are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”

“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced,” he said. “If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status.”

The Sept. 28 crash was the first ever for an F-35. The pilot safely ejected and the plane crashed into an uninhabited marsh area.

A subsequent investigation determined that faulty fuel tubes were responsible for the crash. The faulty tubes were traced to one of the two companies who manufactured the fuel tubes in aircraft built in 2015 and earlier, according to the Associated Press.

Approximately half of all F-35s were believed to contain faulty fuel tubes.

In April, another Marine Corps F-35B was forced to make an emergency landing at Tsuiki Air Base in western Japan after experiencing a mechanical issue. A cockpit indicator prompted the pilot to land at the nearest airport, though it was unclear what issue the aircraft was experiencing.

The Marine Corps was the first branch to integrate the F-35B in 2015, while the Air Force integrated the F-35A variant in 2016. The F-35C variant is scheduled to be integrated into the Navy in Feb. 2019.

The F-35 aircraft is considered one of the most expensive weapon systems ever. The F-35B is one of three variants, and the only one capable of vertical landings like a helicopter.

Just one day before the crash last month, a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B carried out its first combat air strike when it successfully struck a fixed Taliban target during an Operation Freedom’s Sentinel combat mission in Afghanistan.