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F-22 Raptors damaged, destroyed by Hurricane Michael

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The US Air Force’s Tyndall Air Base in Florida has taken a direct hit. Many of its ultra-advanced F-22 Raptor stealth fighters have been caught on the ground, reported News.com.au (Australia).

Exactly how many of the $475 million aircraft were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Michael has not yet been revealed.

The United States Air Force could only afford to buy 187 operational examples of the 5th generation stealth fighter. Now, that number may have been significantly reduced.

US authorities won’t yet confirm or deny the details.

Standard procedure is for all combat and support jets to fly to safe havens ahead of such an intense storm.

But not all are able to get into the air.

Complicated aircraft such as the F-22 must spend much of their time in hangars having their electronics, engines, equipment and structure being maintained and repaired.

So when Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Coast near Tyndall Air Force Base on Thursday, an unspecified number of the 55-strong Raptor fleet was still on the ground.

UNCERTAIN TOLL
Almost all personnel had been evacuated from Tyndall before the Category 4 hurricane crossed the coast. Air force officials admit returning assessment teams have found “widespread catastrophic damage”.

We know 55 Raptors are based there.
Reportedly, 33 F-22s sought sanctuary at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

That leaves 22 of the $475 million warplanes unaccounted for.

Unconfirmed reports suggest at least six — and possibly many more — were forced to seek shelter in the air base’s ‘hurricane-proof’ hangars to tough out the approaching storm.

But Tyndall took a direct hit.

GROUND ZERO
Photos emerging from Florida’s battered west coast show the air force base has been shredded by the hurricane’s 210km/h blast.

Among the debris, pictures circulating on social media show at least two examples of the F-22 Raptor’s distinctive angular lines sitting among the buckled hangars.

Pictures showing upside-down fighter aircraft on the base’s grounds are somewhat deceptive: These came from a static display of decommissioned historic aircraft.

But all of the Tyndall’s hangars were reportedly damaged by the hurricane. In them were a variety of aircraft, ranging from training aircraft through to the frontline F-22s.

Air Force spokeswoman Major Malinda Singleton said in a statement: “We anticipate the aircraft parked inside may be damaged as well,” she said, “but we won’t know the extent until our crews can safely enter those hangars and make an assessment.”

But the broad extent of splintered trees, bent metal and hole-riddled structures does not bode well for the fate of the aircraft.

Access to the base remains difficult, with fallen power lines, trees and structures almost all nearby roads.

“At this point, Tyndall residents and evacuated personnel should remain at their safe location,” Colonel Brian Laidlaw, the commander of the 325th Fighter Wing based at Tyndall, said. “We are actively developing plans to reunite families and plan to provide safe passage back to base housing.

“Teams from around the country have arrived with the people and equipment we need to recover from Hurricane Michael.”

HANGAR QUEEN
While the F-22 Raptor is the pride of the US fighter fleet, it has a reputation for being fragile and finicky. Recent air force assessments found only 49 per cent of the 187-strong (now possibly much fewer) fleet was ready to fly at any given time.

That’s the lowest availability figure for all US combat aircraft.

Production of the F-22, which is the world’s most advanced fighter jet, ceased in 2010. The production-line of the 5th generation aircraft has reportedly since been broken up and parts re-used for the F-35.

A study conducted last year estimated the re-establishing the production line would cost more than $15 billion, and take seven years, to build a new batch of 194 Raptors.

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