Officials said Tuesday that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will skip a showcase appearance for potential buyers at the Farnborough International Airshow in what has to be viewed as a major setback for the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program.
The decision to cancel fly-bys and static displays of the F-35 at Farnborough came only hours after the Defense Department announced the end to the grounding of the fleet following a June fire severely damaged an F-35A in Florida.
Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, made the final decision to cancel any plans of the F-35 arriving at Farnborough, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
Three F-35Bs, the Marine jump-jet version of the JSF, and one Royal Air Force aircraft had been scheduled to make appearances at the premier showcase for potential foreign military sales.
"While we're disappointed that we're not going to be able to participate in the air show, we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capabilities to allies and partners," Kirby told a Pentagon briefing.
Earlier Tuesday at a Brookings Institution forum, Amos said he was highly confident in the future of the F-35, but stopped short of predicting that the F-35B would fly at Farnborough.
Amos said he was being cautious about an appearance for the F-35B after conferring with Vice Adm. David Dunaway, head of the Naval Air Systems Command.
"He (Dunaway) is the guy that grounded them," Amos said.
The military grounded its entire F-35 fleet made by Lockheed Martin following a fire in the engine area aboard an F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida that forced the pilot to flee the aircraft before takeoff.
On Monday at Farnborough, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's acquisitions chief, said the fire was traced to excessive rubbing of fan blades in a section of the Pratt & Whitney-made engine known as the integrally bladed rotor.
The grounding of the F-35 fleet was lifted Tuesday, but Kirby said restrictions remained.
"This is a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope which will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23 engine mishap is identified and corrected," he said.
At the Brookings Institution, Amos , a veteran Marine aviator who will retire in the fall, said that 95 or 96 F-35 engines had been thoroughly inspected for potential fan problems and "all but three have been cleared." He said he expected two of the three engines in question would also be cleared shortly.
"We know what happened. We're just not sure why it happened," Amos said of the fire at Eglin. "Everybody came to the conclusion that this was just something that happened. This is what I would call a one-off."
"I'm optimistic, very optimistic" about the future of the F-35 whether or not it goes to Farnborough, Amos said. Throughout the military, "the level of confidence on a return to flight is pretty doggone high," Amos said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com
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