WASHINGTON: The F-35Bs have not left Patuxent River Naval Air Station to make their way across the Atlantic Ocean.
After an all–hands meeting this morning to discuss the issue of securing a waiver or permission to fly from NAVAIR, Naval Air Systems Command — who must decide if the Marine Corps planes are airworthy — no final decision was made about whether the planes could fly after the fire that crippled an F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base.
The planes still are scheduled to fly at the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford and at the Farnborough Air Show. The F-35 fleet — Air Force F-35As, Marine Corps F-35Bs, and Navy F-35Cs — remains grounded. The Office of Secretary of Defense issued the grounding order late Thursday, the day before the Fourth of July.
“Based on leadership guidance this morning, there is no ‘go, no go’ hard date. If aircraft can leave in time to support RIAT and/or Farnborough, they will do so,” a program official says in an email.
The Air and Education Training Command has clearly been able to download some or all of the plane’s flight data. NAVAIR, as the air worthiness authority, is reviewing it. And behind the scenes the Marines, Lockheed, and so many others who yearn for the Joint Strike Fighter to make its maiden overseas appearance, are crossing every appendage they can find.
“As engine data analysis continues, air worthiness authorities will make a decision relating to return to flight. Regardless of outcome, safety will be at the forefront of decision-making,” the program official says.
The closest thing to a final decision is likely to be made tomorrow. The aircraft are supposed to spend two days in maintenance after the trans-Atlantic flight and the RIAT flight is supposed to happen on Friday. If they can’t make it to RIAT then they can still make to Farnborough. I understand a waiver is being considered for the two-day turnaround, but you can be sure no one wants to make a decision that might result in a plane being damaged or a pilot hurt.