The US Department of Defense today lifted an almost three-week-old grounding order on the Lockheed Martin F-35, which improves the chances for the fighter to make a debut appearance at the Farnborough air show.

“If I were a betting woman, I’d say the odds just got better,” says Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, speaking at a 15 July event at the US Pavilion.

The return to flight comes three weeks after a fire erupted as an F-35A was on a take-off roll at Eglin AFB, Florida. This forced its pilot to abort the take-off attempt and exit the aircraft.

An airworthiness board convened by the US Air Force and US Navy on 14 July approved a return to flight order for the F-35 fleet, James says.

The order includes certain limitations, including a new engine inspection interval and restricted flight envelope, James says. The restrictions will remain in place until the root cause of the fire is identified.

“So we remain hopeful that the F-35 can come here to Farnborough,” James says.

Four short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs have been parked on the ramp at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, since 10 July, waiting to make the trip across the Atlantic with in-flight refueling support from a fleet of aerial tankers. If launched, the deployment will represent the longest single flight attempted by the F-35 fleet in programme history, after nearly eight years of flight testing.