The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program office released a statement saying a routine engine inspection on Tuesday “revealed a crack on a low-pressure turbine blade of an F-35 engine” and the office took the “precautionary measure” of suspending all F-35 flight operations. “The F-35 Joint Program Office is working closely with Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin at all F-35 locations to ensure the integrity of the engine, and to return the fleet safely to flight as soon as possible.”
The crack was found on a test plane at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The blade is being shipped to a plant in Connecticut, where the engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney will inspect and investigate.
Lockheed Martin, which makes the primary plane, said 64 of the jets would be affected. The Pentagon estimates that it could spend as much as $396 billion to buy 2,456 of the jets by the late 2030s. Delays and cost overruns make the F-35 program a target for upcoming cuts. The cost to build each F-35 has risen to $137 million from $69 million in 2001. Full production isn't expected until as late as 2019, which means spending billions to extend the lives of aging F-16 and F-18 fighters.
Just days before the grounding the Marine Corps gave their version of the fighter — designed to land vertically like Britain’s Harrier jet — the green light to fly after its own unrelated grounding.