F-35 Is the Second Jet Fighter To Crash at Eglin AFB in Four Days

Kyle Mizokami
Photo credit: Suhaimi Abdullah - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

  • A F-35 Joint Strike Fighter crashed at Eglin Air Force Base Tuesday night.
  • The pilot was recovered safe and pronounced stable at a nearby hospital.
  • It's the second loss of an expensive fighter jet in four days, a loss totaling a quarter billion dollars.

A F-35 Joint Strike Fighter crashed on landing last night at Eglin Air Force Base. The pilot ejected and is in stable condition at the base hospital. The crash is the second involving a stealth jet at Eglin in four days and the third F-35 crash in the jet’s operational career. The loss of just two jets in the last week represents a staggering financial loss of a quarter billion dollars, highlighting the extreme cost of modern combat aircraft.

The incident took place at 9:30 p.m. local time Tuesday, May 20. According to 33rd Fighter Wing public affairs, the pilot was taking part in a routine night training mission. The aircraft, assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron, crashed on landing and the pilot successfully ejected from the aircraft. The pilot was taken to the 96th Medical Group Hospital at Eglin and pronounced in stable condition. The name of the pilot was not released.

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago/DVIDS

The crash is the third involving a F-35 fighter jet in three years. In September 2018, a Marine Corps F-35B crashed in South Carolina, a crash later traced to a manufacturing defect. The pilot ejected and was reported safe. In April 2019 a Japan Air Self Defense Force F-35A crashed into the ocean during a night training flight, killing the pilot. The Japanese military blamed the crash on pilot disorientation.

Despite the crashes, the F-35 actually has a pretty good safety record compared to older jets. In 2017, Popular Mechanics reported that the F-35 fleet worldwide had hit 100,000 hours with no crashes. Aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin reported the fleet hit 250,000 hours in March 2020. The F-35 has had seven “Class A” incidents overall, incidents involving aircrew deaths or injuries or aircraft damage amounting to $2 million or total aircraft loss. Non-crash Class As have included accidental fires and bird strikes.

In other words, the F-35 has had about 2.5 Class A incidents per 100,000 hours. As Popular Mechanics wrote in 2017, “The Navy's F/A-18 Hornet averaged approximately 2.84 Class As per 100,000 hours between 1990 and 2013, while the F-16 has a lifetime Class A rate of 3.45 per 100,000 hours. In 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that the lifetime Class A rate for the AV-8B Harrier was 11.44 per 100,000 hours.”

The F-35 is still a relatively new fighter program, and Class As typically spike in the early years of an aircraft program and toward the end.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo/DVIDS

The F-35 crash at Eglin Air Force Base is the second involving a fifth-generation stealth fighter at the Florida base in four days. On Friday, a F-22 Raptor crashed at the base’s test and training range, the pilot reported stable at the same base hospital the F-35 pilot was sent.

The crash of just two airplanes, a F-22 Raptor ($150 million) and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter ($90 million) represent a big loss in just four days. These figures more than anything shows the runaway cost of today’s combat aircraft. In 1944, the P-51 Mustang fighter cost just $50,000, a number that with inflation amounts to $737,051 today. While there’s no doubt the F-35 is far, far more capable than the P-51, it’s also clear that the U.S. cannot afford planes like it used to.

You Might Also Like