F-35 Forced To Land: What Happened?

By Jason Van Hoven on March 12, 2013 10:09 AM EDT

F-35 Forced To Land
Workers assemble an F-35 for the Pentagon's Joint Strike Fighter program at Lockheed Martin Corp's factory located in Fort Worth, Texas, on Oct.13, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

An F-35 was forced to land in Lubbock, Texas, on Monday afternoon on its way to a Nevada air base after a caution light turned on in the cockpit of the fighter jet, according to reports.

Both Pentagon spokesman Joe DellaVedova and the spokesman of the F-35's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp, Michael Rein, said that the next-generation F-35 forced to land was one of two fighter jets headed from the Lockheed plant in Fort Worth, Texas, to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas on Monday afternoon when a caution warning light came on, requiring the pilot to land at the nearest airport.

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The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported that the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II jet made the unscheduled landing at the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport. Rein said that the pilot landed safely without incident.

The second plane landed as planned at Nellis Air Force Base, where it will be used for operational testing and evaluation.

A maintenance team from Lockheed maintenance experts was sent to the Lubbock airport to determine why the F-35 was forced to land and to repair it for flight. The cause is still unclear, and Rein said that it wasn't immediately known if a problem with the engine -- which was built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp -- in the F-35 forced to land triggered the warning light.

Rein also said that the F-35 forced to land would continue its travel to Nellis Air Force Base, or return to the Lockheed plant, depending on what mechanics are discovered after the jet is examined.

The news of the F-35 forced to land is just the latest negative news about the new single-seat, single-engine warplane that Lockheed is not only developing for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, but also for eight international partners: Britain, Canada, Australia, Italy, Turkey, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program estimated at $396 billion, has been grounded twice this year already for engine-related issues. A congressional Government Accountability Office annual report released on Monday on the program said that while it was showing progress in development, production and technical issues, the Pentagon needs to budget $12.6 billion each year through 2037 to finish developing and paying for all the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighters it plans to buy. The Pentagon also estimates that it will cost over $1 trillion for to operate and maintain all 2,443 warplanes it plans to buy, over an estimated 30-year service life.

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