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F-35B In Training Squadron Experienced Fire In Weapons Bay; Investigation Ongoing

Peter "Wizzer" Wilson and Maj. John Dirk arrive aboard USS America for STOVL DT-III, 28 October 2018. US Navy photo.

Two F-35B Joint Strike Fighters arrive aboard USS America for STOVL Developmental Test-III, 28 October 2016. US Navy photo.

An F-35B Joint Strike Fighter with the Marine Corps’ training squadron experienced a fire in its weapons bay during a training mission on Oct. 27, and the service is still investigating, according to a statement provided to USNI News.

The plane from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501, Marine Aircraft Group 31, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing landed safely after the pilot was alerted to the problem, and no injuries were reported.

Military.com first reported the story yesterday and wrote that the Naval Safety Center has listed the incident as a Class A mishap, which involves $2 million or more in damages.

1st Lt. John Roberts, a spokesman for 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, told USNI News today that the Marine Corps had not yet determined the actual cost of the damage. If it does exceed the $2 million threshold, it would be the first Class A mishap ever for the Marines’ variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Roberts told USNI News that “at this point there’s nothing in the works, nothing being planned as far as a fleet wide stand-down or impact on training” for either the training squadron or the rest of the F-35B fleet. The Marine Corps has two operational squadrons, as well as Marines flying operational and developmental test planes. Several organizations are investigating various aspects of the incident, and Roberts could not say how long the investigation might take.

The fire in the Marine Corps variant of the plane comes after the Air Force’s F-35A experienced a string of setbacks. On Sept. 26 a plane at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, caught fire after the engine was turned on while preparing for a training mission. Earlier in September, F-35As were grounded due to a design flaw involving coolant lines. And in 2014 an engine fire at Eglin Air Force Base led the service to ground all its F-35As until the investigation was completed.

The F-35B has progressed faster than its Air Force and Navy counterparts, reaching initial operational capability first last summer and preparing for its first overseas deployment in 2017. When the F-35B fire occurred at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., pilots from operational and developmental test units and from the operational squadrons – including the training squadron – were preparing for the final developmental test at sea aboard USS America (LHA-6), which began the very next day.

The Marine Corps has not announced any groundings or other fleet-wide actions as a result of the Oct. 27 fire.