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F-35s grounded after electrical system fault

F-35 Lightning II program officials have grounded all their jets while they investigate an electrical fault aboard one of the Air Force A-model birds, according to an announcement Wednesday. The grounding -- the program's third in the past year -- was ordered after a power failure on Tuesday aboard the Air Force jet as it was running its engine while still on the ground, not during flight.

Here's how the program office broke it down in its announcement:

Yesterday, at approximately 8:30 a.m. PDT during a standard ground maintenance engine run, aircraft AF-4's Integrated Power Package (IPP) experienced a failure. Following standard operating procedures, the engine was immediately shut down and the jet was secured. No injuries to the pilot or ground crew occurred. The F-35's IPP is a turbo-machine that provides power to start the engine and generates cooling for the aircraft.

The government and contractor engineering teams are reviewing the data from the incident to determine the root cause of the failure. Implementing a precautionary suspension of operations is the prudent action to take at this time until the F-35 engineering, technical and system safety teams fully understand the cause of the incident. Once the facts are understood, a determination will be made when to lift the suspension and begin ground and flight operations of the 20 F-35s currently in flying status. These aircraft are part of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) and Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) fleet.

Determinations of root cause and potential mitigating actions have the highest priority of the F-35 Team. Impact to SDD execution and production operations is being assessed. The program has built schedule margin into the test schedule to accommodate these kinds of incidents that occur in a development effort. Periodic updates concerning this situation will be released as warranted.

Well that would be awfully decent of them. Although service officials have responded to lawmakers' and skeptics' many criticisms of the F-35 by boasting about how well its test program is coming along, this will throw a monkey wrench into that until Lockheed and government program engineers can figure out what went wrong. There was no indication yet Wednesday how long the investigation could take.

If you're keeping score at home, this also means that yes, as of right now, neither of America's fifth-generation super-jets are allowed to fly -- the F-22s are still grounded, too.

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