US Air Force Says Will Finally Fix Lightning Strike Problem That Grounded F-35s During Storms

CC0 / / Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II
Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.02.2022
The Pentagon’s most advanced fighter jet, the Lockheed Martin F-35, has been banned for years from flying close to thunderstorms - just one of many design flaws for which the futuristic and hugely expensive aircraft has been lambasted.
In a highly ironic twist of fate, the F-35 Lightning II aircraft has been banned since early 2020 from flying within 25 miles of a thunderstorm due to fears that a lightning strike could damage a key safety feature on the jet. However, the Pentagon says that it’s found the solution and will begin fixing the jets this year, although the ban will remain in place until 2025.
The problem isn’t that the jet’s Onboard Inert Gas Generation System (OBIGGS), a system that injects nitrogen into the fuel tanks to keep them from exploding - like, say, when the airplane is hit by lightning - doesn’t work, but that being hit by lightning causes a lot of damage to the system itself. The Pentagon first noticed the problem in 2009, well before the first F-35As entered service, but two redesigns later and OBIGGS is still plagued by the vulnerability. According to maker Lockheed Martin, the problem is occurring after the jets leave the factory, although the company has worked with the Pentagon to find a fix.
“The root cause for the nitrogen tube failures is still under investigation,” Laura Seal, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s Joint Program Office that manages the F-35, told Air Force Times on Thursday.
“That said, the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin worked aggressively to develop and deploy an engineering fix that eliminates the problem, even as we continue to investigate the root cause of damage in the original OBIGGS configuration,” Seal added.
However, according to Seal, the “fix” won’t actually get rid of the problem, just minimize it by alerting the pilot “whenever the performance of OBIGGS is detected to be degraded.”
According to Air Force Times, documents obtained by the outlet last month revealed that an F-35A flying out of Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base was struck by lightning in spite of the flight ban on August 3 of last year, which damaged the jet’s canopy and body panels. It caused between $600,000 and $2.5 million in damage to the aircraft, which can cost up to $78 million each - although older aircraft were almost twice as expensive.
The F-35’s vulnerability to lightning is just one of a myriad of design flaws that have plagued the aircraft over the years, making its failings the butt of many jokes. Other problems include an internal weapons bay that is too small to carry most of the weapons it was supposed to; some models being unable to fly at supersonic speeds for long periods lest their tails be damaged by vibrations; and most recently, the iron-based stealth paint seems to be rusting in the salty sea spray on the US Navy’s version of the jet.
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