The Pentagon has suspended flights of all 51 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters after a routine engine inspection revealed a crack on an engine blade of an F-35 test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
It was the second grounding of the warplane in two months and marked another setback for the $396 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Pentagon’s biggest weapons program, according to Reuters.
Engineering teams are shipping the engine’s turbine module and its associated hardware to Pratt & Whitney’s Engine Facility in Middletown, Conn., to conduct more thorough evaluation and root cause analysis.
The Pentagon’s F-35 program office began notifying the chiefs of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps late on Thursday about the engine issue and decision to ground the planes, said Kyra Hawn, a spokeswoman for the program office.
She said that a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base in California on February 19 revealed a crack on a low pressure turbine blade that is part of the F-35’s F135 engine. The blade was on an F-35 A-model, or Air Force variant, which takes off and lands from conventional runways.
Pratt spokesman Matthew said the inspection showed “an indication of a crack” on the third stage low pressure turbine airfoil. He said the company was working closely with the Pentagon, Lockheed and the military services to get the planes flying again.
The Marine Corps variant of the F-35, which takes off from shorter runways and lands like a helicopter, was grounded for nearly a month after a fuel line detached just before a training flight at Eglin Air Force Base in January.
That issue was later found to be caused by a manufacturing defect. The Pentagon and the U.S. Navy lifted flight restrictions on the B-model of the plane on February 13.