WASHINGTON • The United States has temporarily suspended operations of its fleet of F-35 fighter jets for 24 to 48 hours to check for possible faulty fuel tubes in the engines of the planes.
A crash in South Carolina late last month had raised concerns about whether the part was to blame.
The Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday that the US military and its international partners, which have also purchased F-35 fighter jets from contractor Lockheed Martin, would be suspending flight operations to inspect the fuel tubes out of caution.
"If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced," the Pentagon said in a statement. "If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status. Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours."
The engines in question are made by aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, a secondary contractor on the F-35.
"We're fully supporting our customers in helping them to identify the problem parts and come up with a proper solution for replacement," company spokesman John Thomas said.
By the end of Thursday, the US military and some foreign partners had already put planes without the suspect fuel tube back into service.
Only planes with a fuel tube from a certain supplier require replacement, and, so far, officials believe that number is limited to about half the roughly 340 aircraft in service.
According to the Pentagon, the decision to temporarily suspend operations of the fleet is the result of initial data that investigators gathered in their probe of last month's crash.
During the incident, a Marine Corps variant of the F-35 joint strike fighter, known as the F-35B, went down in the vicinity of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
The pilot ejected safely.
The accident marked the first crash of an F-35 in the 17 years since Lockheed Martin won the competition for the fighter jet in October 2001 and teamed up with other contractors to begin production of the high-profile plane.
The fighter jet has experienced other issues over the years, including concerns about pilots receiving enough oxygen while flying and engine fires on the ground. But last month's incident was the first time the plane had crashed.
"The primary goal following any mishap is the prevention of future incidents," the Pentagon statement added. "We will take every measure to ensure safe operations while we deliver, sustain and modernise the F-35 for the warfighter and our defence partners."