The F-35 Lightning can Finally Survive a Lightning Strike

The F-35 Lightning can Finally Survive a Lightning Strike

Though 2020 has presented its fair share of challenges and disappointments, Lockheed Martin is slated to have a massive triumph by the end of the year. More specifically, they’re anticipating successful upgrades to their F-35 fighter jets, making them equipped to fly the friendly skies. Earlier this year, the Air Force discovered an issue with the Onboard Inert Gas Generation System. This system is designed to protect against lightning strikes. It does so by pumping fuel tanks with nitrogen-enriched air.

Unfortunately, maintainers in Utah noticed that one of the system’s tubes were damaged, effectively ruining its purpose. Eager to remedy the problem, the Defense Department and Lockheed have agreed to fix the OBIGGS before moving forward. According to Darren Sekiguchi, the vice president of F-35 production, their team will focus on strengthening the brackets within the tubes of the OBIGGS to ensure that they’re secure and less sensitive to movement. These modifications are already underway, and Sekiguchi is confident that the updated system will be ready for delivery by the end of the year.

While Lockheed has made productive efforts on this front, the Defense Department is now keen to implement changes in existing jets used by the Air Force. Sekiguchi maintains that administering any adjustments is contingent upon the service’s availability, stating that the reconstruction period could take years in the field. It’s not yet clear whether Lockheed will be financially responsible for these upgrades, but the F-35 Joint Program Office is doing all they can to oversee smooth, streamlined revisions. Until the F-35As have been reworked, they can’t fly within 25 miles of lighting or thunderstorms.

When these complications came to light in June, the F-35 Joint Program Office shared that 14 of the 24 models had damaged tubes. Not surprisingly, Lockheed immediately halted production, pausing deliveries so that they could validate these claims. Operations were stagnant for three weeks, subsequently resuming later that month. When Lockheed eventually resolves the OBIGGS issue, it’s presumed that they’ll have perfected F-35 production methods. With the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the OBIGGS tube situation proved even more difficult.

From the end of May to the beginning of September, Lockheed underwent schedule changes. The 2,500 employees working on the F-35 in Texas were required to work two weeks, followed by a week off. In addition to keeping workers safe, Lockheed executives state that this slowdown was necessary to accommodate delays across the supply chain. Despite these shortcomings, Lockheed is still looking forward to introducing 121 F-35s within the next couple of months. This is 20 fewer jets than their initial forecast, but it’s an impressive feat, nonetheless.

During the summer, Lockheed encountered an onslaught of roadblocks. With that said, F-35 production slowed considerably, with the manufacturing team eking out about nine jets per month. Lockheed’s goal was to increase this number to 14, but some suppliers are still facing significant disruptions. As a result, Lockheed experienced losses in both daily routines and future assembly. Their European suppliers got hit the hardest, requiring Lockheed to get creative during times of despair.

Sekiguchi is happy to report that F-35 production is slowly but surely returning to business as usual. Even still, he does see the occasional setback with global suppliers. Fortunately, these hiccups pale in comparison to what they endured a few short months ago. Sekiguchi takes great solace in knowing that Lockheed is both willing to and capable of overcoming unprecedented obstacles. In the meantime, Sekiguchi is patiently awaiting the arrival of the new and improved F-35 fighter jets.

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