Faulty manufacturing seen behind F-35B grounding

Mon Jan 28, 2013 7:03pm EST
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pentagon and industry officials said on Monday a manufacturing problem was the most likely cause of an engine failure that led to the grounding of all 25 Marine Corps versions of the Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: Quote) F-35 fighter jet 10 days ago.

The investigation found that a fuel line built by a unit of Parker Hannifin Corp (PH.N: Quote) had been improperly crimped, which resulted in it detaching and failing just before a training flight took off at a Florida Air Force base, said Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office.

He said engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N: Quote), and Britain's Rolls Royce Plc RROYC.UL, which build the engine for the F-35B model were taking steps "to improve their quality control process and ensure part integrity."

The F-35B should be able to resume flights as soon as the parts supplied by a unit of Parker Hannifin are replaced, said Matthew Bates, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney.

"The team continues to work diligently toward ... implementing corrective actions with the supplier. We anticipate a return to flight for the (short takeoff, vertical landing) variant soon," Bates said.

The Pentagon's F-35 program office said it was working with the Navy to resume flights of the F-35B model, which can take off from shorter runways and land like a helicopter, but gave no timetable for when training and test flights would resume.

The grounding did not affect the Air Force or Navy versions of the new fighter since they do not use the same part.

The speedy conclusion of the investigation is good news for the F-35 program, which is racing to complete an aggressive schedule of flight tests this year. The program has completed about 34 percent of its planned test flight program, but Lockheed is already building production models of the new plane.   Continued...