F-35Bs on board the USS America amphibious assault ship as part of developmental testing and operational testing (Image source: Lockheed Martin)

First F-35 crash; pilot safe

On September 28, a day after the first Lockheed Martin F-35B combat strike, an F-35B stationed at United States Marine Corps (USMC) Air Station Beaufort crashed a short distance from the base. The aircraft was part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501).

According to the Marine Corps, the U.S. Marine pilot safely ejected before the aircraft crashed. There were no civilian injuries.

The cause of the crash is under investigation. Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort are working with local authorities currently conducting standard mishap operations to secure the crash site and ensure the safety of all personnel in the surrounding area.

The F-35 Lighting II is a single-seat, single-engine, fifth-generation multirole fighter developed by Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin. The F-35B is a short takeoff and vertical landing (SVOTL) version of the aircraft equipped with a vertical flight system that directs thrust from the aircraft’s engine towards the ground through a nozzle near the middle of the airframe.

The F-35B is used exclusively by the USMC in the U.S.

The crash occurred the same day as the U.S. Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin finalized an $11.5-billion contract for the production and delivery of 141 F-35 aircraft at the lowest per aircraft price in program history.

In Low-Rate Initial Production Lot 11 (LRIP 11), the F-35B unit cost was lowered to $115.5 million. This represents a 5.7 percent reduction from the $122.4 million it cost for the aircraft in LRIP 10.

Despite last week’s crash, the latest contract is a demonstration of the program's progress and maturity, as industry and the government now set their sights on future acquisition approaches for the next production lots to further reduce costs.

In total, more than 320 F-35 aircraft operate from 15 air bases around the globe and have cumulatively surpassed more than 155,000 flight hours.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.
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