US$100 million F-35 stealth fighter crashes for first time in jet’s 17-year history

The crashed plane was an F-35B variant, which is capable of taking off from a short runway and landing vertically

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 9:23am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 10:51pm

The US military has suffered its first crash of an F-35 aircraft in the 17-year history of the high-profile fighter jet programme.

The crash of the Marine Corps variant of the F-35, known as the F-35B Lightning II, occurred Friday outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, according to the Marine Corps.

The service did not give a suspected cause for the crash, saying the incident remained under investigation.

“The US Marine pilot safely ejected from the single-seat aircraft and is currently being evaluated by medical personnel,” the Marines said in a statement.

“There were no civilian injuries.”

The aircraft, which cost more than US$100 million, belonged to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, which trains Marine pilots for combat with the F-35.

In the past, F-35 jets have made emergency landings, experienced in-flight incidents, including oxygen deprivation among crews, and suffered from engine fires and other failures on the ground.

But this is the first time the military has suffered a full-blown crash of an F-35 involving the ejection of a pilot.

A US military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation remained underway, said the Marine Corps initially classified the crash as a Class A mishap, which is defined as an incident resulting in the complete destruction of the plane, more than US$2 million in damage or the fatality or permanent total disability of the crew.

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Launched in the early 1990s, the F-35 programme is considered the most expensive weapons system in US history, with an estimated cost of some US$400 billion and a goal to produce 2,500 aircraft in the coming years.

Once servicing and maintenance costs for the F-35 are factored in over the aircraft’s lifespan through 2070, overall programme costs are expected to rise to US$1.5 trillion.

Proponents tout the F-35’s radar-dodging stealth technology, supersonic speeds, close air support capabilities, airborne agility and a massive array of sensors giving pilots unparalleled access to information.

But the programme has faced numerous delays, cost overruns and setbacks, including a mysterious engine fire in 2014 that led commanders to temporarily ground the planes.

So far, the US military has taken delivery of 245 F-35s, most of them to the US Air Force.

The F-35B is the most expensive of three variants of the F-35, which also include the F-35A conventional take-off and landing version, and the F-35C, used aboard aircraft carriers.

The F-35B stealth fighter jet was used by the United States in combat this week for the first time, against the Taliban in Afghanistan, after taking off from an amphibious assault ship in the Arabian Sea.

Israel in May was the first country to use the F-35 stealth fighter in combat.

The Washington Post, Reuters, Agence France-Presse