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TSgt. Michael McClure, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, briefs Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the cockpit of the F-35A Lightning II at Eglin AFB, Fla., July 10, 2014. Air Force photo by Linda Phillips.

With the fleet still grounded in the aftermath of a recent engine fire at the base, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel paid a visit to Eglin AFB, Fla., last week to tout the program and declare his support for the next generation fighter. Hagel said he wanted to meet with pilots and maintainers privately to not only get a sense of the capabilities of the jet, but also what they think of its capabilities and progress. “I know there are issues. I don’t know of a platform that we’ve ever had ... and then put into service that didn’t go through issues,” Hagel said in remarks to troops at Eglin. He added that he received a “good report” from pilots and maintainers regarding the engine, and would not rush a decision on clearing the fleet to fly until the separate safety inspection and accident investigation is complete. “We’re not going to put the F-35 in the air, send it anywhere until we are absolutely convinced and know that its safe to fly.” As to whether or not it would fly in the upcoming Farnborough airshow, set for July 19-20 in England, Hagel said he would leave the decision up to the program office experts to come back and make a recommendation. “I will listen carefully to what their analysis is and what they think,” he added.