U.S. approves limited flights for F-35 fighters

Tue Jul 15, 2014 7:24am EDT
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By Andrea Shalal

FARNBOROUGH England (Reuters) - U.S. military officials have approved limited flights for Lockheed Martin's (LMT.N: Quote) F-35 fighter jets, improving the chances of the newest U.S. combat jet making its international debut before potential buyers this week.

The F-35, the world's most expensive weapons project with a price tag of about $400 billion, has been grounded since the massive failure of the Pratt & Whitney (UTX.N: Quote) engine on a U.S. Air Force F-35 plane at a Florida air base on June 23.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Tuesday U.S. Air Force and Navy officials had granted the radar-evading jet a limited flight clearance that required engine inspections and carried restrictions on its flights. No details about the restrictions were immediately available.

Kirby said the lifting of a fleetwide grounding order was encouraging, and U.S. officials remained hopeful that the F-35 could make its international debut at this week's Farnborough air show, but no decision had been made.

The jet's failure to appear at a big military air show in Britain last week and its absence from the first days of the Farnborough event in southern England have been a blow for U.S. officials and their international partners, who were hoping to showcase the capabilities of the new multi-role fighter.

Global orders for the F-35 are expected to exceed 3,000, with Italy, Turkey, Canada and Australia among the U.S. allies planning to purchase the plane.

Lockheed and Pratt welcomed the U.S. decision to lift the grounding order, but referred all questions to the Pentagon's F-35 program office.

Matthew Bates, spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, said the company had great confidence in the F135 engine it builds for the new fighter jet and had worked closely with the military to return the jet to flying status.   Continued...

An F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter takes off on a training sortie at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in this March 6, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force photo/Randy Gon/Handout