Hurricane Cripples 10 Percent of US Raptor Fleet

Kai Huang - 2A Computer Engineering
Posted on: October 31, 2018

In the beginning of this month, Hurricane Michael tore through the southeast United States, carving a path of destruction through the entire region. Right at the edge of the Florida seacoast where the storm first made landfall lies Tyndall Air Base, home of 55 F-22 Raptor fighter jets.

The F-22 raptor is considered to be one of the most advanced air superiority fighters in the world. At a hefty price point of around $150 million USD per aircraft, production was halted in 2009 after only around 180 jets were finished, and the assembly lines modified to prepare for F-35 construction.

Standard operating procedure for the U.S. Air Force to prepare for a natural disaster that may impact the fleet is to fly the aircraft to a safe location for the time being. However, the F-22 is a finicky aircraft. Being heavily maintenance-intensive, the entire fleet has approximately a 49 percent availability figure at any given point. Luckily, recent reports between Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Senator Marco Rubio have concluded that 69 percent of the F-22’s at Tyndall were able to escape to safety, leaving behind the 31 per cent designated non-mission capable (NMC) to be sheltered in place.

The 31 percent figure would mean that 17 jets remained in Tyndall’s hangars when Hurricane Michael made contact. The big concern then is how severe the damage was that was inflicted on them. Photos after the storm had passed show hangars with collapsed roofs as well as some that had buckled entirely. The distinctive silhouette of the F-22’s are clearly visible within many of the shots. However, Air Force Secretary Wilson mentioned that “damage was less than we feared and preliminary indications are promising.”

The damage caused to these seventeen jets could mean a potential loss of nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. F-22 fleet. Given the very specific role that these jets fulfill and their already questionable availability figure, the loss could be incredibly significant. Talks has once again resumed about potentially restarting production of the F-22 to meet current demands, with countries such as Russia and China developing their new fifth generation air superiority fighters. However, the economic reality is that an additional line of 75 aircraft would incur a roughly $266 million average unit cost, which is no small price to pay.

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