BREAKING: F-35 Cleared For Flight [Updated With Statement]

A Pentagon official told Defense News that the F-35 fighter fleet has been cleared by air worthiness authorities. A decision on attending the show has not been made but the official said DoD is “hopeful” it can make the trip.

A statement released by Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, confirmed the news.

“Yesterday the air worthiness authorities for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force approved the F-35 fleet to return to flight,” Kirby said in the statement. “This is a limited flight clearance that includes an engine inspection regimen and a restricted flight envelope which will remain in effect until the root cause of the June 23 engine mishap is identified and corrected.”

“We remain hopeful that the F-35 can make an appearance at the Farnborough airshow. This information is an encouraging step, but no final decision has been made at this time.”

Safety remains the overriding priority. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.”

Speaking at Farnborough, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said “If I was a betting woman, I’d say the odds just got better” for the plane to arrive at the show; an audience at the US international pavilion responded with a round of applause.

A Lockheed Martin spokesman pointed to Kirby’s statement but declined further comment, referring questions to the Pentagon.

“We have great confidence in the F135 engine powering the F-35, and we have worked very closely with DoD and the Services to return the aircraft to flying status,” Matthew Bates, Pratt spokesman, said in a statement. “It would be great for the jets to come to the Farnborough Air Show so the audience here can see the capabilities the F-35 brings to the US and our partners. Beyond that, any specific comment or announcement will have to come from the DoD or the MoD.”

The fact the jets would be cleared early Tuesday was actually predicted — or was it accidentally leaked? — yesterday by the official Facebook page of Naval Station Patuxent River, where four F-35Bs are standing by to make the trip to the UK.

The question of whether the plane would make it has been the talk of the show. Even executives for rival companies with no stake in the fifth-generation fighter have expressed hope the jet would make an appearance.

Four F-35Bs have been standing by at Naval Station Patuxent River ready to go. If the planes leave immediately, they could be ready to fly over Farnborough by Wednesday afternoon local time, although Thursday may make more sense logistically.

The F-35 fleet was grounded on July 3, the result of an ongoing investigation into an engine fire that heavily damaged an F-35A model known as AF-27. The grounding meant the jet missed its scheduled international debut at last weeks Royal International Air Tattoo, as well as the first two days of Farnborough.

The cause of the fire has been identified as excessive rubbing from a fan blade against part of an F135 engine, designed by Pratt & Whitney.

“There is a growing body of evidence that this is not a systemic, major design problem, that the problem is a manageable problem,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, told reporters Monday. “We have not found a similar problem on any of the other engines that are in service, so that’s encouraging.”

“At this stage in the game, I do not see this as any kind of major setback.”

Speaking this morning, Paul Adams, president of Pratt & Whitney, called the F135 an “extremely important” program for his company. The F-35 business is core to the future of Pratt’s military engine business unit.

[Updated 10:53 GMT with statement]

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