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Apr 4, 2024

F-35A Lightning Cleared to Soar Through Lightning Storms Once Again

After a four-year hiatus, the United States Air Force has reinstated the F-35A Lightning II’s capability to navigate through lightning and thunderstorms. The decision comes following the lifting of a restriction that was initially imposed in 2020 due to safety concerns.

The F-35 Joint Program Office confirmed in a recent email that the restriction, which prohibited F-35As from flying within 25 miles of lightning, was officially lifted on March 19. This restriction was initially imposed after a flaw was discovered in the aircraft’s Onboard Inert Gas Generation System (OBIGGS), which is designed to safeguard the jet from lightning strikes.

The issue first came to light during maintenance procedures on an F-35A at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Subsequent inspections revealed similar problems in multiple other F-35s, prompting the military to restrict their flight near lightning-prone areas until a solution could be implemented.

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35, expressed confidence in the aircraft’s capabilities, stating, “The F-35 remains the most capable aircraft in providing global 21st-century security that protects the United States and our allies.” Meanwhile, BAE Systems, the manufacturer of the OBIGGS system, was not available for immediate comment.

The fix for the OBIGGS system involved implementing a more robust design for the hardware of the fighters, along with updates to its software. This modification underwent rigorous testing both in laboratory settings and during flight trials. The Joint Program Office attributed the successful resolution to the collaborative efforts of government and industry engineers.

Despite the reinstatement of flying capabilities, specific details regarding the nature of the fix and the number of F-35As that have undergone modifications remain classified due to operational security concerns.

In a statement, the Joint Program Office emphasized that the implemented fix not only restores operational capability but also enhances safety for both pilots and aircraft. With the lifting of this restriction, the F-35A Lightning II reaffirms its position as a vital component of the nation’s defense arsenal, ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

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