On October 11, the Pentagon issued a temporary fleetwide grounding order for F-35s of all versions, following the first crash of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, on September 28. The pilot ejected safely.
Investigators suspect a faulty fuel pipe within the engine as a potential cause for the loss. Virtually all Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy F-35s—plus those of international partners—are to undergo an initial inspection of the suspected part(s), a process expected to take around 48 hours to complete. Aircraft with known good fuel tubes will be returned to flight status immediately, while those with suspect parts will have them replaced. In the meantime, the accident investigation board continues to examine data from the crash, the fuel pipe issue having been raised as a possible cause ahead of the final findings.
Not all F-35 operations were suspended, however, the Royal Navy issuing a statement noting that, while some flying had been curtailed, the F-35B continued its carrier trials operations aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The aircraft that crashed was an F-35B from Beaufort’s VMFAT-501 “Warlords” squadron, the Marine Corps training unit. It was not the first F-35 to be written off, however, as an F-35B has recently been stricken from the inventory after having suffered an in-flight engine fire and emergency landing on October 27, 2016.
In the meantime, the U.S. Navy’s first front-line squadron to operate the F-35C carrierborne version has received its first aircraft at Naval Air Station Lemoore. VFA-147 “Argonauts” has been using the aircraft of the training unit, VFA-125, while it prepares for fleet service, including participation in pre-IOT&E testing in August. Now the squadron can apply its badge to the first of its allocated aircraft, which are scheduled to undertake a first operational deployment aboard USS Carl Vinson in 2021. The squadron’s use of the name “Argonauts” was approved in 1967 when it was established as the Navy’s first A-7 Corsair II unit. The squadron typically uses the callsign “Jason.”