New strike fight­ers grounded af­ter crash

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - RORY CALLINAN DE­FENCE WRITER

Aus­tralia’s new F-35 strike fight­ers have been grounded fol­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into a crash in­volv­ing one of the fifth-gen­er­a­tion air­craft be­ing op­er­ated by the US Marine Corp last month.

The ground­ing was re­port­edly in re­sponse to con­cerns the air­craft may have a faulty tube that is part of the fuel sup­ply sys­tem.

The Aus­tralian De­fence Force con­firmed yes­ter­day it and other F-35 op­er­a­tors, in­clud­ing the US and Bri­tain, had “paused” flights to en­able in­spec­tions of the planes’ en­gines.

“A num­ber of F-35 op­er­a­tors, in­clud­ing the US, UK and Aus­tralia, have paused the fly­ing of their F-35 air­craft to al­low the en­gines to be in­spected,” an ADF spokesman said.

“Aus­tralian F-35 air­craft cur­rently based in the US will re­turn to fly­ing op­er­a­tions once safety in­spec­tions are com­plete. Some in­ter­na­tional part­ners within the F-35 pro­gram are al­ready com­menc­ing fly­ing fol­low­ing con­clu­sion of their in­spec­tions.”

The spokesman said the in­spec­tions would not af­fect the de­liv­ery of air­craft to Aus­tralia, the first of which is due to ar­rive in De­cem­ber and en­ter ser­vice in 2020.

The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported yes­ter­day that much of the global fleet of Lock­heed Martin F-35 com­bat jets was tem­po­rar­ily grounded to in­ves­ti­gate en­gine prob­lems fol­low­ing the plane crash in South Carolina on Septem­ber 28.

Of­fi­cials said the fleet of about 320 jets would un­dergo in­spec­tions over the next two days to check fuel tubes in en­gines that are made by Pratt & Whit­ney, a unit of United Tech­nolo­gie, ac­cord­ing to the pa­per.

The de­ci­sion af­fects more than 250 US-owned jets, as well as nearly 100 that be­long to other na­tions in­clud­ing Bri­tain.

About half the F-35s are be­lieved to have the faulty tube, As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

The marines-op­er­ated F-35B crashed into an un­in­hab­ited marsh is­land near the Grays Hill com­mu­nity in South Carolina.

The pi­lot safely ejected be­fore the crash.

Dur­ing the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion, cer­tain fuel tubes were iden­ti­fied as a po­ten­tial prob­lem, largely in­volv­ing air­craft built be­fore 2015. Un­til 2015, two com­pa­nies man­u­fac­tured the tubes, and the prob­lem in­volves just one of them, AP re­ports. If the air­craft has those par­tic­u­lar tubes, they will be re­placed. Pratt & Whit­ney spokesman John Thomas said the com­pany was sup­port­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Aus­tralia is buy­ing 72 of the F-35A con­ven­tional take-off vari­ant of the air­craft at a cost of about $17 bil­lion. Six of the air­craft have been de­liv­ered into Aus­tralian pos­ses­sion and are be­ing used for pi­lot train­ing at Luke Air Force Base in Ari­zona.

‘Aus­tralian F-35 air­craft cur­rently based in the US will re­turn to fly­ing op­er­a­tions once safety in­spec­tions are com­plete’ DE­FENCE SPOKESMAN

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