UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth II attend the formal naming ceremony for the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth on July 4. Hammond said he believes the F-35 will be cleared to fly at the Farnborough International Airshow next week. (WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON — Britain’s Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is close to writing off the chances of the F-35B making an appearance at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in the UK, but said he is “optimistic” the aircraft would make it to the Farnborough International Air Show next week.
“I think we are running close to being out of time for RIAT, but we are still optimistic we will have an F-35B in the UK for Farnborough next week,” said Hammond, answering questions after a speech opening a Royal United Services Institute air power conference in London on Wednesday.
Plans for the F-35 to make its international debut at RIAT, a three-day event staged at the Royal Air Force base at Fairford in southern England were thrown into disarray when the Pentagon grounded the aircraft following an engine fire on a F-35A model June 23.
US Department of Defense inspectors are continuing to investigate the cause of the fire.
Following RIAT, up to four of the F-35B jump jets had been scheduled to take part in the flying display at the Farnborough show, which starts July 14.
F-35 program officials indicated this week that the US Marine Corps could potentially OK its F-35B fleet in time to make the shows, even if the UK planes are left behind.
Although it was never officially confirmed, some of the aircraft were even expected to fly during the launch of the 65,000-ton aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth in Scotland on July 4.
Hammond said he is unconcerned about the grounding as the aircraft is still in its development phase.
“It’s still in development, and I think the approach the US regulators have taken to ground the aircraft on a precautionary basis to fully understand the cause of the engine failure is the right decision to take. At this stage of the program, we can afford to take a cautious approach and not take any risks,” he said. ■