Hot Shots? RAF’s £150mn fighter jet could ‘shut down’ in midair due to overheating fault
The Royal Air Force’s next generation F-35 fighter jet could “shut down” in mid-flight if its fuel overheats, US test pilots have discovered. The fault is the latest in a string of embarrassments for military chiefs and manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
US Air Force engineers encountered the problem while testing the aircraft at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona last week.
Described as one of the world’s “premier fighters” by arms giant Lockheed Martin, the F-35 is designed to use its own fuel as a coolant.
If the fuel gets too hot, however, the fighter jet is in danger of overheating and shutting down.
This is the latest in a series of setbacks for Britain’s RAF, who originally expected the fifth generation jet to be in service by 2012. Britain confirmed the purchase of 14 F-35 jets at a cost of £2.5 billion this year.
Although the total cost of each aircraft is unknown, estimates by the Pentagon put the figure at high as £150 million.
“The F-35 has a fuel temperature threshold and may not function properly if the fuel temperature is too high,” Senior Airman Jacob Hartman of the US Air Force said.
“We are taking proactive measures to mitigate any possible aircraft shutdowns,” Chief Master Sergeant Ralph Resch said.
Engineers painted the refuel trucks with reflective white paint as a quick fix, but a more permanent solution has also been identified.
“The long-term fix is to have parking shades for the refuelers,” Resch said. Similar shelters will need to be built on all British bases in order to keep fuel trucks cool during the summer, the Daily Express reports.
With the cost of repainting the trucks alone coming to $3,900 each, the true financial implications of this setback remain to be seen.
“The aircraft should be fine if the next war is in a cold climate – but since most of our enemies seem to be in the Middle East and Far East we may have a problem,” a Ministry of Defence source told the Daily Express.
The Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will carry the F-35 when it comes into operation in 2020.
The F-35 Lightning II is set to be most the expensive and sophisticated fighter jet in the world. Virtually invisible to radar, the jet has world’s most powerful fighter engine, according to Lockheed Martin’s website.
The weapons manufacturer describes the F-35 as an affordable aircraft.
“Since the first operational F-35 was produced, the price has dropped 55 percent. The program is committed to ensuring price for the latest procurement of jets cost less than the previous lot,” the firm claims.