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SEPTEMBER 2020

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning Can’t Fly Near … Lightning

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U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning Can't Fly Near ... Lightning

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The US Air Force’s F-35A Lightning fighter jets are under restriction from flying within 25 miles of thunderstorms or lightning, until the On-Board Inert Gas Generation System (OBIGGS) is fixed.

This was announced by a Lockheed Martin spokesperson on June 24th.

The issue only seems to affect the F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing variant, which is used by the U.S. Air Force and the majority of international customers.

Delivery of the fighter jets was also briefly paused to fix the issue, but it has since resumed.

The OBIGGS protects the F-35 by flooding an area struck by lightning with inert nitrogen gas, to prevent explosion.

Delivery of aircraft was suspended June 2nd to ensure the system was being properly installed, but resumed June 23rd when it was determined the problem was occurring “in the field after aircraft delivery,” a company spokesperson said.

Bloomberg, which obtained a JPO memo dated June 5th, reported that flawed tubes were found in 14 of the 24 “A” models inspected.

“We are working with the F-35 Joint Program Office on a root cause corrective action investigation to determine next steps,” the spokesperson said.

The F-35 Joint Program Office did not respond to queries about the issue.

This is not the first time that the F-35A Lightning fighter jet was told to avoid, well, lightning – the jet’s original OBIGGS was also problem-prone, leading to a directive to avoid thunderstorms about 10 years ago. A redesigned system was installed in 2014.

Meanwhile, the US House Oversight and Reform Committee is looking into why exactly the F-35 is so expensive.

According to maintenance personnel testifying before the committee, costs are ballooning because Lockheed Martin is failing to deliver parts to the military that are ready to be installed.

The panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, and others said in a June 18th letter to Lockheed’s new chief executive, James Taiclet, that the Department of Defense faces “excess costs” because it “must divert personnel to troubleshoot these issues and use extensive workarounds to keep F-35 planes flying.”

“The military is spending tens of millions of dollars a year to overcome unresolved issues with the system Lockheed Martin built and maintains to track spare parts for the F-35,” they said. “It is imperative that Lockheed Martin be held accountable for meeting its contractual obligations and that taxpayer money is spent efficiently and effectively.”

The lawmakers made an extensive demand for Taiclet to provide internal documents by June 30th.

Lockheed “will provide all relevant information to the House Government and Reform Committee detailing the continued affordability and success of the F-35 program,” company spokesman Brett Ashworth said in a statement.

“Lockheed Martin has made several improvements to automation and enhanced supplier accountability processes that are reducing costs and improving performance.”

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