UPDATE 4-U.S. Navy maintains grounding order for F-35 fighter jets

Sat Jul 12, 2014 5:50pm EDT
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(Adds comment from Marine Corps general)

By Andrea Shalal

RAF FAIRFORD, England, July 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy maintained a grounding order for F-35 B-model and C-model fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp, saying it was still not clear what caused a massive engine failure on an Air Force F-35 jet last month.

The fleetwide grounding order kept three Marine Corps F-35 B-model jets and one British F-35B from traveling to Britain for widely publicized appearances at two air shows.

"At this time, I do not have sufficient information to return the F-35B and F-35C fleet to flight," Vice Admiral David Dunaway, who heads the Navy's Air Systems Command, said in an update to a grounding order issued by U.S. officials on July 3. A copy of the document was obtained by Reuters.

In the document, Dunaway said he was committed to returning the F-35 fleet to flight as soon as possible, but there was still "no discernible event that represents a root cause."

The memo emerged after a lengthy meeting on Friday of the officials responsible for determining the "airworthiness" of the F-35, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In the incident on June 23 at a Florida air base, the Pratt & Whitney engine on an Air Force F-35 A-model jet broke apart, pushing through the top of the airplane and catching fire while a pilot was preparing to take off.

Marine Lieutenant General Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, told Reuters late on Friday that the jets might not appear at the Farnborough air show, which begins next week. But he did not see the engine issue as a long-term setback.   Continued...