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Lockheed’s F-35 grounding order lifted, but with restrictions

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter jet won’t appear at a U.K. air show because temporary flight restrictions by the U.S. military ruled out a trans-Atlantic trip.

Four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B models, including one destined for the U.K.’s armed forces, were to have participated in the Farnborough Air Show, which started this week.

Those plans were scuttled yesterday after the U.S. Navy and Air Force agreed to only limited-time flights for the 97 jets grounded July 3 because of an engine fire last month on an Air Force version.

The jet’s failure to appear at Farnborough is the latest embarrassment for a $398 billion program marked by cost overruns, production delays and safety concerns. The U.S. is pushing to expand export sales of the fighter, built to satisfy requirements of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The restrictions require that, after three hours of flight time, each front fan section of each engine has to be inspected with a borescope, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters yesterday. The process allows for detailed evaluation of the United Technologies Corp. Pratt & Whitney engines.

“That was a pretty significant limitation in terms of being able to fly them across the Atlantic,” Kirby said.

Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos concurred in the decision, Kirby said.

The short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing B model is the most complex version of the three types being built under the program. The Marine Corps plans to declare the first unit of jets combat ready as early as July 2015.

Laura Siebert, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, earlier referred questions to the Pentagon.

Colonel Dave Lapan, a spokesman for Amos, said in an e-mail statement the decision was a joint U.S.-U.K. one.

The decision “balanced the relatively quick-turn now required to prepare and get the airplanes over to the U.K. in time, against the time the aircraft would be able to participate in the show, all balanced against the need to return to operational flying as quickly as possible in the U.S.,” he said.

Despite its troubles with the airshow, Lockheed Martin’s stock has seen a good few days. It’s share price rose from 157.45 Thursday to 163.08 at today’s opening.

 

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