Lockheed Martin recently paused deliveries of the challenged but highly touted F-35 Joint Strike fighter jet due to an internal gas tube malfunction. Nothing too major, but Lockheed’s primary concern is that if the aircraft were to be struck by lightning, it could explode.
A tube within the Onboard Inert Gas Generation System has been found to be susceptible to damage during normal operations. This system replaces the oxygen that gets built up in the fuel tank with nitrogen. This helps prevent vapors in the fuel tank from combusting in the unlikely event that the jet was struck by lightning.
Officials are delaying deliveries until it can be determined if this is a structural flaw or a one-off anomaly.
In the meantime, F-35 squadron commanders have been advised to avoid flying within 25 miles of lightning or thunderstorms. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, lightning strikes are extremely rare, hitting one aircraft a year on average.
Early reports seem to indicate that the flawed tubing could be limited to the Air Force’s Lightning II variant, which is the model Lockheed also sells internationally.
This is just the most recent issue to hit the $1 trillion F-35 program. Also contributing to cost over-runs and operational delays have been engine fires, cracks in the fuselage, deteriorating cooling line insulation, and even confusion on uniform hardware use.
Despite these issues, last fall the Department of Defense finalized a $34 billion agreement with Lockheed for the next three batches of F-35s – a total of 478 aircraft. The jet fighter is the first to combine next-generation stealth, electronic warfare capabilities, and advanced air-to-air and air-to-surface weaponry.