A US Air Force F-35 jet caught fire last month while preparing for take-off

F-35 fleet still grounded but inspections nearly wrapped up

Investigators are about to conclude inspections of the 97 US F-35 fighter jets which have been grounded after investigation revealed a failure of the jet's Pratt & Whitney engine caused a plane catching fire.

The accident, which prompted the inspection took place on 23 June at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida as the plane was preparing for take-off. The pilot of the affected plane managed to escape without injury.

Early investigation revealed the plane's engine broke apart during the accident. However, the exact cause of the failure has not yet been determined.

Senior officials with the US Navy, US Air Force and F-35 program office, together with British and Dutch experts are about to review results of the fleetwide inspection before deciding whether the jets will be allowed to fly to the UK to be shown during the Farnborough Air Show. .

Four Marine Corps F-35B jets are parked at an air base in southern Maryland, ready to travel to Britain. A fifth jet, a British F-35B, remains at Eglin.

If officials allow flights to resume, the British jet could fly to Maryland on Tuesday, and the group of F-35Bs could depart for England on Wednesday, according to two sources.

The aircraft must leave by Wednesday to be ready for flights at the Royal International Air Tattoo on Friday. But the jets could still make it to Britain for the big Farnborough show next week, officials said.

The incident has put on hold US contract negotiations for the next batches of fighter jets and engines, which officials had hoped to conclude before the air shows, according to the Pentagon's F-35 program office and industry officials.

"There is some hesitation to conclude the contract negotiations until the scope of the issue is fully understood," said an official with the program office.

Lockheed's previous contracts with the Pentagon call for a 50-50 split of costs with the government, but the government is still trying to hammer out a similar arrangement with Pratt.

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