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High-tech fighter jet's debut grounded

| Thursday, July 10, 2014, 9:51 p.m.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — The much-anticipated international debut of the military's new, high-tech fighter jet remained in limbo on Thursday, as officials scrambled to determine the cause of the fire that grounded the aircraft last week.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is visiting Eglin Air Force Base, where many of the F-35 fighter jets are based. Hagel met with the pilot who escaped the aircraft fire — the latest stumble in the military's most expensive fighter-jet program.

Military officials grounded the entire F-35 fleet last week while investigators try to determine why the aircraft caught fire on the runway on June 23 as it was about to take off for a training flight. The grounding has jeopardized plans to display the Marine Corps' version of the aircraft at two air shows in England.

After a series of briefings on Thursday, Hagel said the final analysis is being done.

“We're not going to put aircraft in the air unless we feel absolutely secure that it is safe,” Hagel said.

Three variants of the aircraft are being developed and built, one each for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. It is still in development and training and not yet being used in combat flight operations. The Marines expect to field its version of the F-35 next summer, the Air Force will follow in 2016, and the Navyin 2017.

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