There are going to be some disappointed aeronautical fans this weekend at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, UK. The F-35B Lightning II fighter will not be making its scheduled international public début due to the grounding of the entire F-35 fleet after a runway incident at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida on June 23.
The Short TakeOff/Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B was meant to make its first public appearances this month at the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Airshow, but the ongoing investigation into a runway fire and subsequent fleet grounding meant that the aircraft was unable to gain clearance for the transatlantic flight. The exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
"The safety of pilots and aircraft has to be our priority,” says an MOD spokesman. “Of course, it is disappointing that the Lightning II has not arrived in the UK in time for the Air Tattoo but we fully support the decision not to grant clearance for the aircraft to make their first transatlantic flight to the UK until the technical investigations following an engine failure are complete."
An international development effort led by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 is the single most expensive weapons program in history with an estimated cost of over US$1 trillion dollars. The recent fire is the latest difficulty for the controversial program, which has been plagued by cost overruns, technical problems, and major redesign issues.