The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is the United States’ most advanced stealth multirole combat aircraft available today. In the 17 years since the F-35 took to the skies, it has accumulated a staggering 721,000 cumulative flight hours.
The F-35 program began in 2006. Today, 13 nations have ordered the F-35, and nine operate it. The aircraft, which Lockheed Martin develops, has three different variants: F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C, each costing around $100 million.
With over 965 F-35s delivered and more than 430,000 sorties completed, the aircraft has showcased its extensive operational history. Nonetheless, the Aviation Safety Network reports 29 F-35 crashes over the years. The first crash occurred in February 2013, and the most recent occurred in September of this year when the pilot ejected from the aircraft.
Here is a list of all notable F-35 Lightning II crash accidents
June 23, 2014 – Eglin AFB, USA: An F-35A’s engine caught fire at Eglin AFB, resulting in the pilot escaping unharmed while the aircraft sustained an estimated $50 million in damage. This incident led to a temporary halt in all flights on July 3, with the fleet resuming operations on July 15 under flight envelope restrictions. The official report in June 2015 attributed the failure to the third-stage rotor of the engine’s fan module, prompting modifications by Pratt & Whitney.
August 23, 2018 – Eglin Air Force Base, USA: Emergency Landing with Nose Gear Collapse: An F-35A made an Emergency Landing after Nose Gear Collapses At Eglin Air Force Base. An F-35A Lightning II, assigned to the 58th Fighter Squadron experienced an in-flight emergency and returned to base. The aircraft landed safely and parked when the front nose gear collapsed. There was one person on board. Fire crews responded immediately and the pilot suffered no injuries as a result of the incident
September 28, 2018 – Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, USA: The first crash involving a USMC F-35B occurred near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Fortunately, the pilot ejected safely. The crash was traced back to a faulty fuel tube, leading to the grounding of all F-35s on October 11 for a fleet-wide inspection. Most USAF and USN F-35s returned to flight status the following day.
April 9, 2019 – Aomori Prefecture, Japan: During a training mission over the Pacific Ocean, a JASDF F-35A attached to Misawa Air Base disappeared, with the pilot, Major Akinori Hosomi, confirmed dead. The accident report attributed the crash to the pilot’s spatial disorientation. Japan grounded its 12 F-35As in response, and there was speculation about potential salvage attempts by China or Russia.
May 19, 2020 – Eglin AFB, USA: A USAF F-35A from the 58th Fighter Squadron crashed while landing at Eglin AFB. The pilot ejected and was in stable condition. The accident was attributed to a combination of pilot error induced by fatigue, a design issue with the oxygen system, and the distracting nature of the aircraft’s complexity.
September 29, 2020 – Imperial County, California, USA: A USMC F-35B crashed in Imperial County, California, after colliding with a Marine Corps KC-130 during air-to-air refueling. The F-35B pilot was injured in the ejection, and the KC-130 crash-landed gear up in a field.
March 12, 2021 – Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, USA: During a close air support weapons training night-time flight, a round fired from the belly-mounted gun pod on an F-35B detonated shortly after leaving the barrel. Classified as a Class C mishap, the aircraft was grounded for maintenance for over three months due to shrapnel damage. The pilot was uninjured.
November 17, 2021 – Mediterranean Sea: A Royal Air Force 617 Squadron F-35B crashed during routine operations in the Mediterranean. The pilot was safely recovered, and the crash was officially determined to have been caused by an engine blanking plug left in the intake.
January 4, 2022 – South Korea: A South Korean Air Force F-35A made a belly landing after all systems failed except the flight controls and the engine. The pilot managed to land the plane without deploying the landing gear, walking away uninjured.
January 24, 2022 – South China Sea: A USN F-35C with VFA-147 suffered a ramp strike while landing on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and was lost overboard in the South China Sea, injuring seven crew members. The pilot ejected safely and was recovered from the water. The aircraft was recovered from a depth of approximately 12,400 ft on March 2, 2022.
October 19, 2022 – Hill Air Force Base, Utah, USA: An F-35A crashed at the North end of the runway at Hill Air Force Base in Utah due to errors in the air data system. The pilot safely ejected, and the cause of the crash was attributed to rapid transitions between primary and backup flight conditions data sources.
December 15, 2022 – NAS Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, USA: An F-35B crashed during a failed vertical landing at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas. The pilot ejected on the ground and was not seriously injured. The aircraft was undergoing production test flying by a government pilot and had not yet been delivered by the manufacturer to the US military.
September 17, 2023 – North Charleston, South Carolina, USA: A pilot ejected from his F-35B over North Charleston, South Carolina, following a “mishap” during a training flight out of MCAS Beaufort. While the pilot was unharmed, the fighter was not located for about 30 hours. An announcement that the fighter’s wreckage was found was made on the evening of September 18, 2023.