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U.S. Air Force to resume F-35A fighter jet flights Wednesday

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force said it will resume flights of Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35 A-model fighter jets at a Florida air base on Wednesday, two days after one of the jets caught fire while preparing for takeoff.

"We intend to resume flights of the F-35As tomorrow," 1st Lieutenant Hope Cronin, a spokeswoman for the Air Force 33rd Fighter Wing, said on Tuesday. The unit trains Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy pilots to fly the new jets at Eglin Air Force Base.

The Air Force ordered a temporary halt in F-35A flights on Monday after a fire broke out in the rear of the plane, forcing the pilot to abort his takeoff.

Cronin said the other 25 F-35 A-model jets at the base had not shown similar problems, but declined comment on a possible cause of the "significant fire" in the rear of the F-35.

She said the other F-35 jets at the base, the B-model jets that can land vertically, and the C-model jets built for use on aircraft carriers, did not fly on Monday or Tuesday due to storms. Their flight operations were not been formally suspended due to the incident.

Cronin said an Air Force investigation was under way. Officials scoured the runway for possible debris, on Tuesday, she said.

The incident has raised questions about whether a group of F-35 B-model jets would be able to fly to Britain in coming days for the plane's international debut at two air shows.

Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 program office, said the fire appeared to be a "one-off" incident. He said there were no plans now to suspend flights for the rest of the fleet.

The fire occurred in the rear part of the plane where the engine is located, but it was unclear whether the engine was involved. Engine maker Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp, has said only that it was ready to help with the Air Force investigation.

Lockheed is developing three models of the new warplane for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Australia, Norway, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Turkey and Canada. Japan, Israel and South Korea have also placed orders for the warplane.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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