The 26 Air Force F-35s Lightning II joint strike fighters assigned here returned to limited flight operations July 17 with the approval of commanders and Air Force airworthiness authorities.
The decision to return to flight was coordinated between the F-35 Joint Program Office, Air Combat Command, Air Education and Training Command and Air Force Materiel Command to ensure accurate return to flight instructions were delivered to Airmen.
“This is the same process the Air Force uses after any suspension of operations,” said Col. Carl Schaefer, Air Force Joint Strike Fighter Integration Chief. “Safety remains our top priority as the F-35 resumes development and training flights.”
The Navy and Marine Corps variants here also returned to limited flight operations July 17 with the approval of Navy airworthiness authorities.
The return has a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and restricted flight rules according to defense officials. While the safety investigation is not yet complete, recently completed inspections indicate that the aircraft can resume flight under the prescribed flight limitations. The limits will remain in place while the safety investigation continues its analysis to determine root cause.
Under the rules of the flight resumption, the F-35s are limited to a maximum speed of Mach 0.9 and 18 degrees of angle of attack. They can go from minus 1 G to 3 Gs, defense official said. After three hours of flight time, the front fan section of each engine has to be inspected with a borescope.
“In terms of our current training syllabus, we don’t anticipate these flight limitations will slow down our training,” said Navy Capt. Paul Haas, 33rd Fighter Wing vice commander.
Despite the grounding, Air Force, Marine and Navy F-35 maintainers and pilots remained busy completing academic and flight simulator training and conducting additional inspections on the aircraft.
“I definitely wouldn’t call this ‘down time’ here,” said Haas. “There is always more work for our team to do with this program. It’s always moving forward, and this experience drives that point home. There were a lot of valuable lessons learned by our community during this incident, both locally and at the higher F-35 program level.”
While the F-35s have returned to limited flight, it will not be appearing at the Farnborough International Airshow in the United Kingdom, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a Pentagon news conference July 15.
“While we’re disappointed that we’re not going to be able to participate in the airshow,” he added, “we remain fully committed to the program itself and look forward to future opportunities to showcase its capabilities to allies and to partners.”
The F-35 fleet was grounded July 3 in the wake of a June 23 engine fire on the runway at Eglin . No one was injured during the incident.
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