Defence has confirmed the RAAF has “paused” flying its F-35A Joint Strike Fighters while engine inspections are undertaken.
The confirmation on Friday afternoon comes after the US Department of Defense announced on Thursday US time it had suspended F-35 flying to inspect fuel tubes within the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engines, following initial investigations into a US Marine Corps F-35B crash in South Carolina, near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, in late September. The pilot ejected safely.
“Following a recent incident in the United States (United States Marine Corps South Carolina 29 Sep 18) the F-35 fleet has been instructed to conduct safety inspections across all delivered engines,” a Defence spokesperson said via emailed statement on Friday.
“Australian F-35 aircraft currently based in the US will return to flying operations once safety inspections are complete. Some international partners within the F-35 program are already commencing flying following conclusion of their inspections.”
In early September, the RAAF took delivery of its ninth F-35A. The aircraft, A35-009, was the first to be taken on strength by its first operational flying unit to fly the jet, No 3 Squadron.
The Defence spokesperson said the new safety inspections “will not affect the delivery of aircraft to Australia”.
3SQN pilots and maintenance personnel are currently training on the F-35 with the US Air Force’s 56th Fighter Wing at Luke. The squadron is due to bring the first two jets to Australia in mid-December for a ‘Verification & Validation Testing’ program and to allow in-country F-35 maintenance training to begin.