UPDATE 1-F-35A fighter jet flights suspended after fire at U.S. air base

Mon Jun 23, 2014 7:45pm EDT
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(Adds details, Lockheed statement)

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Monday temporarily halted flights at a Florida air base of 26 F-35A fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp after a jet caught fire as it was preparing to take off for a training flight, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The pilot aborted the takeoff and was not injured, said Joe DellaVedova, spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office. He had no immediate details on the cause of the fire or extent of the damage to the F-35 conventional takeoff model.

The fire occurred in the rear part of the plane where the engine is located, but it was unclear whether the engine was involved. Engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, said it was aware of the incident and stood ready to assist in the Air Force investigation.

The incident came just days before a group of F-35 B-model jets are due to fly to Britain for the jet's international debut. One U.S. defense official said it was too soon to say whether the fire would delay those plans or affect them in any way.

DellaVedova said it was unclear what caused the fire, but Air Force officials had temporarily suspended flights of the A-model jets at the base until the root cause was found.

"Safety is paramount, and all F-35A flight operations have been temporarily suspended at Eglin as they investigate the nature of the incident," he said.

Emergency responders were able to put out the fire, which occurred about 0915 local time, he said.   Continued...