Jet crash during take-off costs Ministry of Defence £82m

MoD investigation into incident to be published later this month
An F-35B jet. Photo: Peter Brogden/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

01 Aug 2022

The Ministry of Defence has written off more than £80m after a stealth jet crashed into the sea during the launch of the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier last year.

The F-35B Lightning aircraft crashed in the eastern Mediterranean in November towards the end of ship’s maiden voyage, Carrier Strike Group 21.

The MoD launched an investigation after the crash and has told CSW an interim accident report is due to be released later this month.

The £81.7m loss was revealed in the MoD’s 2021-22 annual report, which says the F-35B jet is expected to be replaced.

“We have made provision to buy additional aircraft, and our planning assumption is that we will purchase additional F-35B lightning aircraft, but this remains subject to negotiation. One of these is a replacement of the one lost during CSG 21," the report says.

The jets currently cost around £85m each and the MoD has ordered 48 of them so far.

A video of the crash, shared on Twitter, shows the jet attempt to take off from the aircraft carrier but fail to get enough speed or thrust. The pilot ejects himself from the aircraft just before it falls off the ramp into the sea. The pilot was safely rescued by helicopter.

The accident may have been caused by a plastic rain cover getting sucked into the engine prior to take-off, according to reports.

The video appears to have been recorded from one of the HMS Queen Elizabeth’s own surveillance cameras. A service member who was aboard the aircraft carrier has been arrested for the video leak, according to UK Defence Journal.

In December, the MoD told Insider it had successfully recovered the F-35 jet. National security adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove also confirmed to the House of Commons Defence Committee that month that the pilot had been recovered safely and was still undergoing medical checks. “We are hopeful that he will be absolutely fine,” he said at the time.

Lovegrove told MPs it would be premature for him to comment on the reasons for the accident and the recovery of the flight data recorder and the wreckage would be “really vital for an accurate investigation to determine the causes of the crash”.

“Clearly the swift recovery of the aircraft is what we would like to do and we are working closely with allies on the mechanics of that,” he added.

Asked for further information on the incident and inestigation, an MoD spokesperson told CSW: “The investigation into what caused the crash during CSG21 last November is still ongoing and the findings have not yet been published.”

F-35Bs are built by US firm Lockheed Marti and are the UK’s most advanced and expensive warplane.

The RAF website says the F-35B’s “short take-off and vertical landing capability allows it to operate from the new ‘Queen Elizabeth’-class aircraft carriers and the vessels of allied nations, as well as short airstrips”.

In 2018, a F-35B jet was destroyed in a crash during a US Marine Corps training exercise in South Carolina.

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