Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II aircraft, which has been in service for fifteen years, is naturally equipped with a lightning protection system. However, a failure of this system means that the plane must be kept away from any storm! However, this is not the first time that this device has encountered this kind of problem.

Interrupted deliveries

The F-35 Lightning II in service since 2015 is a single-seater, single-engine, stealthy and practicable in all weathers, at least in theory. Indeed, the device is equipped with an anti-lightning system (OBIGGS). The goal is to inject nitrogen into the tank to prevent fuel vapors from igniting. In other words, an airplane that does not have this protection can catch fire after being struck by lightning.

However, as Bloomberg explains in an article published on June 24, 2020, the F-35 Lightning II is currently “afraid” of lightning. Lockheed Martin says it spotted a failure in the OBIGGS anti-lightning system during a maintenance operation. The engineers said that one of the pipes carrying the nitrogen to the tank was damaged. For more than a month, the manufacturer has therefore interrupted its deliveries.

More than half of the planes concerned

Lockheed Martin, however, explained that the problem was not factory. In other words, not all devices are affected! However, the automaker recently made two deliveries to the US Air Force. In contrast, the Defense Department’s F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) issued new instructions to the pilots.

The JPO indicates that the F-35 Lightning II must not be closer than 40 kilometers from lightning or thunderstorms! This security measure will remain in effect until a full investigation is conducted into the failure of the OBIGGS system. In addition, the F-35 Lightning II is available in three versions: F-35A, F-35B and F-35C. However, only the F-35A would be affected by this problem.

In any case, the problem is taken very seriously. Indeed, the JPO has already indicated that at present, the system failure concerned 14 planes out of a total of 24 inspected! As the investigation continues, this mishap recalls that the same type of problem had impacted the same planes less than a decade ago. In fact, the old OBIGGS system was already showing a fault with the nitrogen injection into the tank. Thus, the system had been changed in 2014.

Joseph Mandell

Mandell is currently working towards a medical degree from the University of Central Florida. His main passions include kayaking, playing soccer and tasting good food. He covers mostly science, health and environmental stories for the Scientific Origin.