The first F-35A Lightning II to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, arrives Sept. 13, 2013. (Alex R. Lloyd / US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — A US Air Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter caught fire when attempting to take off from a Florida Air Force base Monday morning, Pentagon officials said.
The plane, which is assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, the unit that trains F-35 pilots for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and international militaries, experienced a fire in the aft end of the aircraft, according to an Air Force statement.
The pilot successfully shut down the plane and escaped unharmed, an F-35 program spokeswoman said. The fire was extinguished with foam by a ground crew.
Officials were assessing the damage and looking for the cause of the fire, the spokeswoman said.
“We take all ground emergencies seriously,” US Navy Capt. Paul Haas, 33rd Fighter Wing vice commander, said in a statement.
“In this case, the pilot followed the appropriate procedures which allowed for the safe abort of the mission, engine shutdown, and egress. We have a robust and extensive training program in which every pilot and aircraft crew member is trained, in order to respond quickly and correctly in the event emergencies occur.”
Mike Rein, a spokesman for aircraft-maker Lockheed Martin, said the company is “keenly aware” of the situation and is prepared to “assist in any way” requested by the Air Force. A spokesman for engine-maker Pratt & Whitney said: “We are aware of this incident at Eglin AFB. Pratt & Whitney stands ready to assist the 33rd Fighter Wing in its investigation.”
The fire is the second major incident experienced by the program in recent weeks. Test flights were temporarily halted on June 13 for inspections of an oil flow management valve fitting inside the engine.
No F-35s have been destroyed since production began in 2006. Lockheed has delivered more than 100 F-35s since then.
The aircraft are being used for operational testing and pilot training only. The Marine Corps is expected to declare its version of the aircraft battle-ready next year.
The F-35 cost between $98 million for an Air Force variant and $116 million for a Navy version, according to Lockheed data. A Marine Corps version cost $104 million.■