Cause Found In F-35 Fire (Updated)

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A fire in an F-35 engine was caused by "excessive" rubbing of fan blades in the engine, Pentagon official Frank Kendall said this week, adding that the cause doesn't appear to be a fundamental design flaw. The fleet of 97 new Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, operated by the Navy and Air Force, has been grounded since early this month, after the fire occurred on June 23 as a pilot was preparing for takeoff. The aircraft, powered by a single Pratt & Whitney engine, was scheduled to fly at the Farnborough Airshow this week, but won't be making the trip. "If the F-35 doesn't make it to the show, it's quite embarrassing," Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group, said recently. "It will jeopardize the timing of export orders. But assuming there's no major problems here, we aren't expecting a serious blow to the program."

Earlier this week, the Pentagon didn't rule out flying the aircraft to England. Kendall said detailed inspections of the fleet hadn't shown signs of excessive rubbing on the fan blades, although several engines did show signs of milder rubbing. "The design allows for a limited degree of rubbing, but it was enough in this case to cause a structural reaction that ultimately led to failure," he said. The jet was expected to be a main attraction at the Farnborough show. The $400 billion program is still in the developmental testing phase of deployment. The UK has committed to buying about four dozen of the jets.