US Air Force optimistic on hurricane-hit fighter jets

A vapour cone is seen as an F-22 Raptor does a fly-by during the airshow at Joint Andrews Air Base in Maryland. (AFP pic)

WASHINGTON: The United States Air Force said Sunday that a group of F-22 stealth fighters left behind at a base to ride out Hurricane Michael were intact but it was too soon to say whether all of them would fly again.

Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida was hit by the Category 4 storm on October 10 and suffered extensive damage, with some hangars partially stripped of their roofs, according to official footage of the coastal facility.

Numerous reports had speculated on the fate of an unspecified number of the ultra-advanced fifth-generation fighter jets that could not be flown out to safe havens due to maintenance or safety reasons.

The unit cost of the aircraft is around US$150 million (RM623 million), which soars to over US$330 million when research and development are priced in.

“As we drove through the base and assessed the damage, it was clear that the hurricane’s toll was severe in places, especially around the Tyndall flightline,” said a statement attributed to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and other senior officials.

“We also looked into each of the hangars that housed aircraft which weathered the storm for maintenance or safety reasons,” it added.

“Visually, they were all intact and looked much better than expected considering the surrounding damage to some structures.

“Our maintenance professionals will do a detailed assessment of the F-22 Raptors and other aircraft before we can say with certainty that damaged aircraft can be repaired and sent back into the skies.

“However, damage was less than we feared and preliminary indications are promising.”

Hurricane Michael made landfall not far from the base on Wednesday, and went on to claim at least 17 lives across four states, with Florida the worst hit.