After a year of several fleet-wide groundings for the F-35, the latest problem to plague the fifth-generation fighter is forcing the U.S. Air Force to revamp an entirely separate fleet to support the military’s most expensive plane.
The F-35 can only fly on jet fuel under a certain temperature due to the high heat output of the F-35B variant’s short takeoff and vertical landing engine and other powerful subsystems. According to the USAF, the dark-green trucks that carry fuel absorb too much heat from the sun to keep the planes in the sky. (RELATED: Entire F-35 Fleet Grounded Ahead Of July 4 Holiday)
That presents a serious logistical problem for an advanced multi-role fleet expected to maintain U.S. air superiority in areas of potential conflict such as the Middle East and South Pacific — areas with no shortage of sunlight.
For the time being the Air Force is addressing the issue by painting the tanker trailers of the trucks a bright reflective white to repel sunlight absorption. That presents a whole new problem for the safety of the trucks, which will be necessary to support the Joint Strike Fighter on forward deployments where large white tankers full of highly flammable fuel could make easy targets.
“We painted the refuelers white to reduce the temperature of fuel being delivered to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter,” Senior Airman Jacob Hartman of the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona said in an Air Force news report. “The F-35 has a fuel temperature threshold and may not function properly if the fuel temperature is too high, so after collaborating with other bases and receiving waiver approval from [the Air Education Training Command], we painted the tanks white.”
Luke AFB reportedly got the idea from Edwards AFB in California, where Air Force personnel first discovered the problem some time ago.
“It ensures the F-35 is able to meet its sortie requirements,” Chief Master Sgt. Ralph Resch, fuels manager of the 56th LRS, said in the report. “We are taking proactive measures to mitigate any possible aircraft shutdowns due to high fuel temperatures in the future.”
“This is the short-term goal to cool the fuel for the F-35; however, the long-term fix is to have parking shades for the refuelers.”
The Air Force also plans to try incorporating reflective paint into the trucks’ standard green to reduce the heat absorption and maintain cover. Though the cost of the paint is $3,900 per-truck, it’s undoubtedly cheaper than another costly fix to the entire fleet, which uses the fuel as a coolant to absorb heat from the JSF’s powerful subsystems before passing into the engine. (RELATED: Three Years And Several Fixes Later, The F-35 Finally Lands On An Aircraft Carrier)