Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:57 pm
The Pentagon has grounded the US military's entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets after discovering a cracked engine blade in one plane.
The problem was discovered during what the Pentagon called a routine inspection of an F-35A, the Air Force's version of the new plane.
The Navy and the Marine Corps are buying other versions of the F-35, which is intended to replace older fighter jets like the Air Force F-16 and the Navy F/A-18.
All versions - a total of 51 planes - were grounded on Friday pending an investigation.
In a written statement, the Pentagon said it is too early to know the full impact of the newly discovered problem.
"On February 19, 2013, a routine engine inspection revealed a crack on a low pressure turbine blade of an F135 engine installed in a CTOL test aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
"Engineering teams are shipping the turbine blade to Pratt & Whitney’s Engine Facility in Middletown, CT, to conduct a thorough evaluation and root cause analysis.
"It is too early to know the fleet-wide impact of this finding, however as a precautionary measure, all F-35 flight operations have been suspended until the investigation is complete and the cause of the blade crack is fully understood.
"The F-35 Joint Program Office is working closely with Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin at all F-35 locations to assess the integrity of the engine, and to return the fleet safely to flight as soon as possible."
The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program, with a total estimated cost of nearly $400bn (£262bn).
The Pentagon has planned to buy more than 2,400 F-35s, but some members of Congress are hesitant due to the hefty price tag.