Some F-35 Lightning II fighter jets deemed to be of “higher risk” are being grounded two weeks after one crashed on a runway in Texas.
Certain models are set to undergo a one-time inspection “while the investigation into the mishap” in Texas continues, the F-35 Joint Program Office told Defense News in a statement. The hope is to finish the inspections sometime in January.
It’s unclear how many planes are being grounded, but JPO confirmed all three variants are among them: the F-35A, F-35B and F-35C. An anonymous source familiar with the program told Defense News the affected jets have fewer than 40 hours of flight time.
Designed as a next-generation replacement for aging military aircraft, the F-35 has entered service over the last decade. Its high cost and frequent issues have drawn criticism, but Congress is greenlighting increasing amounts to be built, Military.com reported.
In the Texas incident this month, the nose cone of an F-35B still being tested by manufacturer Lockheed Martin smashed into the runway during a vertical landing. The pilot ejected and suffered minor injuries.
Defense News’ anonymous source said an investigation found the cause to be a propulsion system issue. A tube that transfers high-pressure fuel into the engine failed, the source said.
Most of the F-35 fleet was grounded for more than two weeks over the summer for an ejection seat issue. And in October, an F-35 crashed near a runway at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, causing an 8-to-10-acre brush fire, according to an announcement.
The U.S. military has 450 F-35s and aims to have 2,500, according to Military.com. But the percentage of them actually capable of flying a mission recently declined because many “don’t have a working engine,” according to a Government Accountability Office report.