Some F-35s grounded after one crashed, pilot ejected at Texas base this month
Stars and Stripes December 28, 2022
WASHINGTON — A small number of F-35 fighter jets have temporarily been barred from flight after a pilot crashed one of the planes this month while testing it at a joint base in North Texas, officials said Wednesday.
The F-35B was going through testing before delivery to the Marine Corps when it encountered trouble while hovering over a runway at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas on Dec. 15.
The fifth-generation fighter jet slowly fell toward the ground and bounced off the tarmac before the pilot ejected. The plane ultimately came to rest just off the runway and appeared to be mostly intact.
As the crash is being investigated by Naval Air Systems Command, the F-35 Joint Program Office — the military office that oversees life-cycle management of all three U.S. F-35 variants — said it has issued a directive to keep some of the technologically advanced aircraft on the ground.
“[We] recommend restrictions on a small number of aircraft, which have been evaluated to be of higher risk, from flight operations and until procedures can be developed for their return to flight,” the Joint Program Office said in a statement to Stars and Stripes.
The F-35B, the variant involved in the crash, is Lockheed Martin’s variant for the Marine Corps and is the only version that can take off and land vertically and hover stationary above the ground. Because of its ability to hover, the plane is equipped with an automatic pilot ejector seat.
Military officials have not concluded why the plane went down, but they have said the pilot was an Air Force major who was testing the F-35B before delivery to the Marine Corps. The pilot was taken to a hospital as a precaution but was not seriously hurt.
The Joint Program Office did not specify which F-35s were grounded or why they’re considered to be at greater risk than others that remain airworthy.
“The affected aircraft have been identified, and the JPO will work with the military services and international partners to ensure understanding of the risks,” the office added.
“This is a preliminary assessment of the risk, and actions are in work that we believe will lead to a refinement of this assessment. The safety of flight crews is the JPO’s primary concern.”
The investigation into the crash is expected to be completed sometime in the next two weeks, and other investigators are trying to determine how much damage was done to the crashed F-35.
Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth is a joint reserve base — which means it’s home to Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine reservists — and it’s operated by the Navy Reserve. The 10th Air Force is headquartered there.
The Dec. 15 crash is the latest involving the F-35 this year. An F-35A crashed in Utah in October, and an F-35C fell into the South China Sea in January after striking the ramp of an aircraft carrier. In both accidents, the pilot ejected safely.
The F-35 entered service in the Marine Corps in 2015. The Air Force began receiving its version, the F-35A, a year later and the Navy (F-35C) in 2019.
Lockheed also makes a variant for the Israeli military, the F-35I. The Israeli Air Force said last week that it’s grounded nearly a dozen of its F-35s pending the outcome of the investigation into the Texas crash.