American F-35A fighters are no longer afraid of lightning
F-35A fighter performed a demonstration flight at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, USA, on February 22. Photo: US Air Force

US F-35A fighter jets can now fly near areas where lightning occurs after many years of being banned from doing so.

The US Department of Defense on March 19 lifted restrictions on flying near lightning areas with F-35A stealth fighters, but the information was only announced on April 1. The move comes after the On-Board Inert Gas Generator System (OBIGGS) on the F-35A fighter jet was repaired, including a hardware redesign and software update, according to Russell Goemaere, Program Office spokesman.

OBIGGS was installed to prevent the risk of the fighter catching fire and exploding when struck by lightning. It replaced the flammable gas in the fighter’s fuel compartment with nitrogen-rich air, which is not flammable or explosive.

In June 2020, US officials discovered that the air ducts installed on the OBIGGS of some F-35A fighters were damaged, which could cause the system to not operate properly in an emergency. The same month, the Pentagon imposed a ban on F-35A fighters flying within a radius of 40 meters near areas where lightning occurred.

Goemaere said repairing OBIGGS will “restore the operational capabilities of the F-35A fighter while making the pilot and the aircraft safer.” He declined to say how many F-35As have had their OBIGGS repaired and allowed to fly near lightning areas, citing security reasons.

The F-35A is a stealth fighter version developed for the US Air Force and allied countries. This is the smallest and lightest variant in the F-35 line, much more maneuverable than the Marine Corps F-35B and Navy F-35C, and is also the only F-35 model to carry the GAU cannon. -22/A caliber 25 mm in body.

Despite its nickname “Lightning II,” the F-35 fighter line has long had many problems related to lightning. In the early 2010s, the Pentagon imposed flight restrictions on this fighter model after discovering that the fuel compartment was not supplied with enough nitrogen-rich gas to ensure the aircraft’s safety.

After OBIGGS was redesigned, JPO allowed F-35 fighters to fly near lightning areas again from 2014 until an air duct problem on the F-35A fighter was discovered in June/ 2020.

Other variants of the F-35 series, the F-35B and F-35C, do not have this problem, but the Pentagon still decided to pause the delivery of all F-35 fighters for a few weeks so that they could eliminate them except for the possibility that OBIGGS encountered an error during mass production.