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Cause unknown: Developmental F-35 fighter jet crashes and burns on take-off

Air Force Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, commander of the F-35 Demonstration Team, performs a high-speed pass during the Oregon International Airshow in McMinnville, Oregon, 21 September 2019. Photo: Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Cook

A developmental version of the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter jet has crashed after take-off in the United States.

A developmental version of the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter jet has crashed after take-off in the United States.

The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Marines Corps version, worth approximately US$109 million, struck the ground near a nearby highway and burnt down near Albuquerque International Airport, New Mexico, on 28 May.

The fighter jet, reportedly a developmental F-35B model on a delivery flight by Lockheed Martin, was refuelled and en route from Naval Air Reserve Station in Texas to Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California when the incident occurred.


Albuquerque Fire Rescue Public Information Officer Lieutenant Jason Fejer, speaking from the scene, said the pilot ejected from the aircraft and was taken to hospital with serious injuries (reportedly University of New Mexico Hospital, in a stable condition).

“Just before 2pm we started getting reports of a possible aircraft done. It’s not a code we get very often and it was confirmed that an aircraft was downed,” he said.

“The pilot was able to get out; that pilot has serious injuries.

“We’re just north of Rio Bravo; we’re advising people to avoid the area and let the investigation run its course. The Federal Aviation Administration will run its investigation and as more information becomes available it will be released.”

There are no current indications of the cause of the crash.

Late last year, full findings and recommendations were released regarding the crash of a United Kingdom F-35B Lightning fighter jet in 2021.

That mostly unclassified UK Defence Safety Authority service inquiry investigation into the loss of a United Kingdom Royal Air Force 617 Squadron F-35B Lightning II (BK-18) aimed to make recommendations in order to prevent reoccurrence.

The accident was notable for being the first loss of a UK F-35B and the third loss of an F-35B globally at that time. That aircraft ditched into eastern Mediterranean waters off the north coast of Egypt, while attempting take-off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth on 17 November 2021.

The pilot successfully ejected in the UK’s first ever ejection using an Mk16E seat, landing back on the deck, while the aircraft decelerated before impacting the sea off the end of the flight deck ramp. A “large red object” identified as BK-18’s left intake blank was seen emerging from the aircraft’s auxiliary intake and recovered by sea boat during the sinking.

The aircraft was later discovered intact, inverted on the seabed at a depth of 2,000 metres before it and all detached items were transported back to the UK. A published report concluded that a protective red gear intake blank (cover), designed to prevent foreign object debris from entering the airframe during storage, had remained inside the F-35 before launch and likely led to an immediate safety engineering issue.

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