£100m F-35 fighter jet crashed into the Med while taking off from HMS Queen Elizabeth because the cheap rain cover hadn’t been taken off properly, investigators fear
- £100m F-35 jet may have crashed because a cheap rain cover was not removed
- Sailors said they saw the cover floating in the Mediterranean after the accident
- A race underway to recover the aircraft’s sunken wreckage after Sunday’s crash
Investigators fear a £100million F-35 fighter jet crashed into the Mediterranean while taking off because the cheap rain covers had not been taken off properly.
Officials believe the rain cover was sucked into the F-35B Lightning II stealth plane’s engine as it took off from the flight deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, forcing the pilot to eject.
Naval personnel reported seeing the cover floating in the sea nearby Britain’s flagship aircraft carrier after the accident in the Mediterranean on Sunday.
Sources said the RAF pilot realised the issue and tried to abort take-off but was unable to stop the plane before the end of the ship’s runway.
The UK was on Tuesday working with the US and Italy to recover the aircraft, believed to be more than a mile below the surface, amid fears Russia would try salvage the wreckage to uncover secret tech onboard.
Investigators fear a £100million F-35 fighter jet crashed on take-off because the cheap rain covers (pictured) had not been taken off
Officials believe the rain cover was sucked into the F-35B Lightning II (pictured) stealth plane’s engine as it took off from the flight deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, forcing the pilot to eject
Sources told the Sun naval personnel realised the issue ‘almost right away’ because rules around removing covers and engine blanks before flights are ‘incredibly strict’.
‘The ground crew do it and they are incredibly strict. Then the pilot walks round.’
The Ministry of Defence has insisted ‘no hostile action’ was involved in the crash and on Sunday evening said the investigation was focusing on technical or human error.
After he ejected, the pilot was reportedly left dangling from the edge of the HMS Queen Elizabeth because the lines of his parachute became caught on the edge of the flight deck.
The pilot, who suffered minor injuries, is understood to have been rescued by helicopter. The pilot’s family was informed of the crash before military chiefs released a statement yesterday afternoon about the incident.
An RAF pilot was forced to eject over the Mediterranean yesterday, sending his £100million stealth jet crashing into the sea
By plunging into international waters, the crash triggered a scramble to recover the next-generation jet from the sea bed before it could be reached by foreign powers, particularly Russia. Above: File image of HMS Queen Elizabeth
This map shows the approximate location of where the F-35B stealth jet crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday
June 23, 2014: A USAF F-35A had a catastrophic engine fire caused by a fractured rotor which saw it turn into a blaze as it took off in Florida.
October 27, 2016: A US Marine Corp F-35B set alight mid-flight due to a fire in its weapons bay before the pilot landed safely in Beaufort, South Carolina.
September 28, 2018: All operational F-35s were grounded while a probe was launched into why a fuel tube failed in flight after a horror crash at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.
April 9, 2019: Parts of the tail of a Japanese F-35 were found in the sea around 85 miles east of Misawa during a training mission.
May 19. 2020: This F-35 crash on landing was caused by a tired, distracted pilot and unresponsive tail glitch.
September 20, 2020: A F-35 stealth fighter jet fell out of the sky and exploded on the ground after hitting a KC-130J tanker in a mid-air collision near the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California.
September 20, 2020: A F-35 stealth fighter jet fell out of the sky and exploded on the ground after hitting a KC-130J tanker in a mid-air collision near the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California
By plunging into international waters, the crash triggered a scramble to find the next-generation plane before it could be reached by foreign powers.
It is the first one Britain has lost and the incident is the first mishap for the RAF’s F-35B fleet and for the £3billion aircraft carrier which left the UK seven months ago.
The technology aboard the US-designed aircraft, including top secret radar and sensors, is hugely sensitive as it allows the F-35 to fly ‘unseen’ in hostile territory at supersonic speeds.
Royal Navy servicemen are working with the Americans to recover the F-35B Lightning II from more than a mile below the surface.
The operation, shrouded in secrecy, is understood to involve divers, miniature submarines and inflatable bags which may be used to lift the plane to the surface of the Mediterranean.
The US is anxious that the jet’s top secret technology is not salvaged by Russia or any of its allies as they would want to study the stealth technology closely to find a way of defeating the jet.
The Lightning is described by the RAF as a fifth generation combat aircraft capable of conducting air-to-surface strikes and electronic warfare.
The aircraft uses an array of sensors to operate undetected in enemy airspace. There were understood to be not only eight British F-35s aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth but also ten US aircraft.
They have conducted some 2,000 take-offs and landings without incident. When not deployed on the carrier, the UK’s F-35Bs are stationed at RAF Marham in Norfolk as part of 617 Squadron (the ‘Dambusters’).
But this week’s crash raises fresh questions about the F-35B, of which Britain currently has 24.
In June 2014 a USAF F-35A had a catastrophic engine fire caused by a fractured rotor which saw it turn into a blaze as it took off in Florida. Two years later a USMC F-35B set alight mid-flight due to a fire in its weapons bay.
In 2018, a US F-35B pilot was forced to eject mid-air after the fighter jet crashed in South Carolina during a training exercise.
And last year, an F-35B aircraft crashed near Naval Air Facility El Centro in California after crashing into a KC-130J, US officials told USNI News.
A U.S. Navy-owned research vessel, deploys the cable-controlled Undersea Recovery Vehicle (CURV-21) off the coast of Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. The CURV is designed to meet the U.S. Navy’s deep ocean recovery requirements down to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet
F-35: How the planes serving HMS Elizabeth have been plagued with problems
The delivery of the RAF’s new, US-built F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in July 2021 marked a rare moment of celebration in what has been a troubled project.
The ‘fifth generation’ fighter aircraft is the world’s most expensive weapons system, though costs have finally stabilised at an eye-watering $406billion.
Manufacturer Lockheed-Martin agreed to cap costs after US President Donald Trump critised the project and even tweeted support for a rival aircraft.
Britain is currently embarked on a £9.1billion programme to purchase 48 of the F-35s, from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin, by 2025.
One of the first four F-35B Lightning II aircraft arrives at RAF Marham in Norfolk on June 6, 2018
America enticed its Nato and other allies into sharing the cost of the aircraft by offering input into manufacture and 15 per cent of each one is comprised of parts from British companies while some of the jets will be made in Italy.
But the planes have been plagued by a catalogue of problems which have sent costs soaring.
There are fears about shortcomings in the technical systems underpinning the new generation of war planes will leave them unable to function properly.
The true cost of the British planes delivered this year is estimated to be over £150million each to cover ‘extras’ such as software upgrades and spare parts.
There are also concerns plane’s software system is vulnerable to cyber-attack and cannot be tested independently by the UK.
The weak broadband on the Royal Navy’s principal aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is also hampering the jet’s abilities.
The problems are not helped by the department responsible for the computer networks essential to the aircraft’s operation needs to find savings of £400 million this year.
The reports into the costs and other problems prompted the Defence Select Committee to launch an inquiry into the project.
It reprimanded the Ministry of Defence for keeping parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.
The MoD has so far refused to provide the estimated cost to the UK of buying the F-35, beyond referring to a National Audit Office which used the £9.1billion figure.
MPs said ‘it is simply not acceptable for the MoD to refuse to disclose to parliament and the public its estimates for the total cost of the programme’.
Though the cost of the F-35 has been the focus of attention, there have also been embarrassing reports of operational shortcomings emerging from the United States.
In a mock air battle in 2015, the cutting edge plane was defeated by an older generation F-16, a plane designed in the 1970s.
In 2020 Pentagon tests found 276 different faults in jet’s combat system.
They included the 25mm cannon vibrating excessively and problems with the he aircraft’s ‘virtual reality’ helmet
Overheating, premature wear of components in the vertical tails and vulnerability to fire were also found to be issues.
The US Air Force temporarily grounded dozens its F-35 stealth fighters while it investigated an oxygen supply issue.
The Marine Corps, who also operate the same F-35B model the UK has purchased, was forced to ground its planes after flaws were found in the computer system.
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