F-35B crashes in South Carolina: $115M fighter jet in first EVER crash after pilot ejects

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A US F-35 pilot was forced to eject midair after the $100million fighter jet crashed in South Carolina.

The aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash during a training exercise Friday, officials said.

The crash appears to be the first of its kind for the troubled F-35 program, marking an unfortunate moment for the most expensive plane in history.

Speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement, a defense official told AFP that the Marine Corps F-35 had crashed outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.

A US F-35 pilot was forced to eject midair after the $100million fighter jet crashed in South Carolina

A US F-35 pilot was forced to eject midair after the $100million fighter jet crashed in South Carolina

A US F-35 pilot was forced to eject midair after the $100million fighter jet crashed in South Carolina

A US F-35 pilot was forced to eject midair after the $100million fighter jet crashed in South Carolina (pictured; the smoking aftermath of the crash)

A US F-35 pilot was forced to eject midair after the $100million fighter jet crashed in South Carolina (pictured; the smoking aftermath of the crash)

 The aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash during a training exercise Friday, officials said, leaving a smoking wreck

‘It’s a total loss,’ the official said.

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said the crash was reported about 11:45 a.m. Friday near the Grays Hill community.

The pilot is being checked for injuries. No one on the ground was hurt.  

A military official says the plane is a Marine F-35B fighter jet, capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, on a routine training mission.  

The crash comes just one day after the US military first used the F-35, which has been beset with delays and cost overruns, in combat. Multiple Marine Corps F-35s struck Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

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

The aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash during a training exercise Friday. Pictured; an F-35B Lightning II launches from the flight deck of the USS Essex amphibious assault ship on September 22, 2018

The aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash during a training exercise Friday. Pictured; an F-35B Lightning II launches from the flight deck of the USS Essex amphibious assault ship on September 22, 2018

The aircraft was completely destroyed in the crash during a training exercise Friday. Pictured; an F-35B Lightning II launches from the flight deck of the USS Essex amphibious assault ship on September 22, 2018

The F-35 was billed as a fighter jet that could do almost everything the U.S. military desired, serving the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy – and even Britain’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy – all in one aircraft design. 

F-35 FACT SHEET 

Role: Stealth multirole fighter

First flight: December 15, 2006

Unit cost (not including engine):

F-35A – $98million

F-35B – $104million

F-35C – $116million

Number built: 115 (as of November 2014)

Length: 15.67m

Wingspan: 10.7m

Height: 4.33m

Max speed (F-35A): 1,930kph 

It was supposed to replace and improve upon and aging aircraft types with widely different missions, and marketed as a cost-effective, powerful multi-role fighter airplane significantly better than anything potential adversaries could build in the next two decades. 

But it turned out to be none of those things. 

The program fell nearly a decade behind schedule, and failed to meet many of its original design requirements.  

The unit cost per airplane, above $100 million, is roughly twice what was promised early on. 

Even after President Trump lambasted the cost of the program in February 2017, the price per plane dropped just $7 million – less than 7 percent.

In 2013, a study by the RAND Corporation found that it would have been cheaper if the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy had simply designed and developed separate and more specialized aircraft to meet their specific operational requirements. 

In January 2015, mock combat testing pitted the F-35 against an F-16, one of the fighters it is slated to replace. 

The F-35A was flown ‘clean’ with empty weapon bays and without any drag-inducing and heavy externally mounted weapons or fuel tanks. 

The F-16D, a heavier and somewhat less capable training version of the mainstay F-16C, was further encumbered with two 370-gallon external wing-mounted fuel tanks.

In spite of its significant advantages, the F-35A’s test pilot noted that the F-35A was less maneuverable and markedly inferior to the F-16D in a visual-range dogfight.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said the crash was reported about 11:45 a.m. Friday near the Grays Hill community, outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina (pictured)

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said the crash was reported about 11:45 a.m. Friday near the Grays Hill community, outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina (pictured)

The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office said the crash was reported about 11:45 a.m. Friday near the Grays Hill community, outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina (pictured)

 

One key reason the F-35 doesn’t possess the world-beating air-to-air prowess promised, is that it was designed first and foremost to be a stealthy airplane.

This requirement has taken precedence over maneuverability, and likely above its overall air-to-air lethality. 

The Pentagon and especially the Air Force seem to be relying almost exclusively on the F-35’s stealth capabilities to succeed at its missions.

Like the F-117 and F-22, the F-35’s stealth capability greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, its radar cross-section, the signal that radar receivers see bouncing back off an airplane. 

The plane looks smaller on radar – perhaps like a bird rather than a plane – but is not invisible. 

The F-35 is designed to be stealthy primarily in the X-band, the radar frequency range most commonly used for targeting in air-to-air combat.

THE F-35 LET DOWN 

The unit cost per airplane, above $100 million, is roughly twice what was promised early on. 

Even after President Trump lambasted the cost of the program in February, the price per plane dropped just $7 million – less than 7 percent.

The F-35 is designed to be stealthy primarily in the X-band, the radar frequency range most commonly used for targeting in air-to-air combat.

In other radar frequencies, the F-35 is not so stealthy, making it vulnerable to being tracked and shot down using current – and even obsolete – weapons. 

It is not able to successful carry out missions that entail air-to-air combat and ground targets. 

F-35A’s test pilot noted that the F-35A was less maneuverable and markedly inferior to the F-16D in a visual-range dogfight.

In other radar frequencies, the F-35 is not so stealthy, making it vulnerable to being tracked and shot down.

One can also use an aircraft’s infrared emissions, which are created by friction-generated heat as it flies through the air, along with its hot engines. 

Several nations, particularly the Russians, have excellent passive infrared search and tracking systems, that can locate and target enemy aircraft with great precision – sometimes using lasers to measure exact distances, but without needing radar.

It’s also very common in air-to-air battles for opposing planes to come close enough that their pilots can see each other. 

The F-35 is as visible as any other aircraft its size.

Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon say the F-35’s superiority over its rivals lies in its ability to remain undetected, giving it ‘first look, first shot, first kill.’ 

Hugh Harkins, a highly respected author on military combat aircraft, called that claim ‘a marketing and publicity gimmick’ in his book on Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35S, a potential opponent of the F-35. 

He also wrote, ‘In real terms an aircraft in the class of the F-35 cannot compete with the Su-35S for out and out performance such as speed, climb, altitude, and maneuverability.’

Other critics have been even harsher. 

Pierre Sprey, a cofounding member of the so-called ‘fighter mafia’ at the Pentagon and a co-designer of the F-16, calls the F-35 an ‘inherently a terrible airplane’ that is the product of ‘an exceptionally dumb piece of Air Force PR spin.’  

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THE F-35

– The jet measures 51.2ft (15.6m) in overall length, has a wingspan of 35ft (10.7m) and a height of 14.3ft (4.36m).

– It has a top speed of 1.6 Mach or 1,200 mph, a Max G rating of 7G, and a combat radius of 518 miles (833km).

– Lockheed Martin, who built the jet, describes its stealth capabilities as ‘unprecedented’. Its airframe design, advanced materials and other features make it ‘virtually undetectable to enemy radar’.

– The F-35B jets are built from more than 300,000 individual parts.

– There are six distributed aperture system sensors around the jet – two underneath, two on top of the aircraft and one either side of the nose. These infrared cameras feed real-time information and images into the pilot’s helmet, allowing them to see through the airframe.

– All variants of the jets are mainly constructed on Lockheed Martin’s mile-long production line in Fort Worth, Texas.

– It takes 58,000 man hours to build each F-35B.

– The F-35 can launch from land, and will take off from HMS Queen Elizabeth via the skip jump ramp, which has been designed to optimise the launch.

– Maximum thrust tops 40,000lb and the jet has a range of 900 nautical miles.

– The jet is capable of two types of ship landing – vertically on to the deck, and also through the shipborne rolling vertical landing, which using forward air speed, allows the aircraft to bring back several thousand pounds of extra weight to the ship.



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