A USAF F-35A Lightning II belonging to the 58th Fighter Squadron has crashed at Eglin AFB in Florida, according the U.S. Air Force. The pilot of the aircraft successfully ejected and was transported to the 96th Medical Group Hospital at Eglin AFB for evaluation. A statement from the 33rd Fighter Wing said the pilot was in stable condition.
At the time of the accident the aircraft was involved in a routine training sortie according to the U.S. Air Force. It is the first time the U.S. Air Force has lost an F-35A Lightning II to an in-flight accident.
The crash occurred at approximately 9:30 PM local time on May 19. Reports of the crash began surfacing on Twitter and across social media at around 11:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 1900 GMT. The Air Force released an official statement about the accident shortly afterward.
The current mission of the 58th Fighter Squadron, named the “Gorillas”, is to train flight crew and maintainers on the USAF Lockheed F-35A Lightning II. The unit was the Air Force’s first F-35A training squadron when it began preparation for F-35A training operations on October 1, 2009. It received its first F-35A in late 2010.
Tuesday’s F-35A crash at Eglin comes only four days after an F-22 Raptor of the 43rd Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall AFB in Florida, crashed on Friday, May 15, at approximately 9:15 AM local time. The F-22 went down approximately 12 miles northeast of Eglin AFB in a remote wilderness area. The pilot ejected and was taken to a local hospital. The aircraft was not part of a concurrent America Strong flyover also taking place in the region, although the America Strong flight that launched out of Eglin that day was recalled after the crash was reported.
The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II is an advanced fifth-generation, low-observable, single-seat, single-engine multi-role combat aircraft that first flew on December 15, 2006. It is also referred to as the “Joint Strike Fighter” across each of its three variants. The F-35A is used by the U.S. Air Force and also Australia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway and South Korea in addition to other nations awaiting arrival of initial orders for F-35As.
The F-35A has flown in operational combat missions with the Israeli and U.S. Air Forces, and in other versions (F-35B) with the U.S. Marines. Before May 19, 2020’s crash, only two F-35s have been lost in accidents, one in service with Japan, the other with the U.S. Marines.
Early controversy surrounded the initial costs and progress of the F-35 program, but costs have been reduced significantly since the program has progressed. Early critics of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have been contrasted by the program’s relative success over the last five years, including the aircraft’s successful combat debut with both Israel and the U.S.. Early on, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program became a lightning rod for criticism by sometimes ill-informed pundits as the most expensive defense contract program launched by the U.S. in the social media era.