There are fewer jets that are beaten up on more than the F-35, but we couldn’t help but share this little nugget from Australia: the nation’s Air Force grounded a pair of its F-35s last weekend, for fear of thunderstorms.
Two Australian F-35s that had just performed at an air show near Melbourne were supposed to fly to Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley on March 5th. They didn’t fly out that day because because of lightning conditions near the base, The National Interest reports.
Lightning was one of many issues—and indeed a more comical one for a jet named Lightning—that plagued the F-35 for some time. As early as 2009, it was discovered that a lightning hit could cause the jet’s fuel tanks to explode. From a Defense Department report cited by a Business Insider story several years ago:
Tests of the fuel tank inerting system in 2009 identified deficiencies in maintaining the required lower fuel tank oxygen levels to prevent fuel tank explosions. The system is not able to maintain fuel tank inerting through some critical portions of a simulated mission profile. The program is redesigning the On-Board Inert Gas Generating System (OBIGGS) to provide the required levels of protection from threat and from fuel tank explosions induced by lightning.
The problem has since been fixed. While newer F-35s have been retrofitted with lighting protection, the two Australian ones, which are the first of 72 bought by Canberra, are not. The story was picked up by Australian and Russian media because, well, it’s always fun to clown on the F-35.
Mike Rein, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 communications director, poured hot water on the subject, saying no jet wants to fly in lightning and that every plane was grounded at the air show that day:
Rein emphasized that the F-35 is certified for flying in lightning conditions, with all jets now coming off the production lines fitted with appropriate safeguards:
“Early on in the program, because there are things that need to be done that are ranked higher than lightning certification, there were planes that came off the assembly line that have to go back for lightning modification. But even if those two planes had had that protection, that runway was still closed.”
Here’s the good news. Perhaps President Trump, who hated the F-35 before he loved it, used his presidential magic to fix it. Remember he said, because of him, the program now is in really “good shape,” just like that, as declared by the president with an aeronautical engineering degree from Bullshit University.
At any rate, the lightning issue seems to have been solved, and with luck Australia’s planes will be too soon. But the F-35 likely has a long way to go before it can prove it is truly a “great plane.”