A U.S. F-35C Lightning II jet has just crash-landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), while doing routine flight operations within the West Philippine Sea (also known as the South China Sea) today. Seven U.S. military personnel were said to be injured because of the accident.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), front, and Wasp-class landing helicopter dock USS Essex (LHD 2) transit the Philippine Sea Jan. 22, 2022. Operating as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, units assigned to Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Groups, Essex and America Amphibious Ready Groups, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force are conducting training to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Larissa T. Dougherty)

The U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs reported that the pilot of the fighter plane ejected from the aircraft just in time and was recovered by helicopter rescue swimmers. They also reported that the pilot sustained minor injuries but was otherwise in stable condition.  Injuries during ejection from aircraft are fairly routine.

Three sailors were reported to have injuries that required them to be evacuated from the carrier and transferred to a medical facility in Manila. The other four personnel were said to be treated onboard. All seven sailors are reported to be in stable conditions.

Accidents are uncommon for the F-35C

This is the first crash aboard a carrier of the naval “C” variant of the F-35 fighter.  The naval version features a strengthened landing gear along with other modifications that allow it to operate off U.S. Navy carriers with just a single engine. In the past, the Navy favored multi-jet engine aircraft for safety reasons.  It is better to lose ‘an’ engine two hundred miles from the carrier at sea than ‘the’ engine.  So far, seven F-35s of all variants have been lost in operational accidents, two by the Air Force, one by the Marine Corps, two by the Navy, one by the Japanese Defense Forces, and a recent loss by the Royal Navy of an F-35B taking off from their carrier, the Queen Elizabeth.

An F-35C Lighting II from the “Argonauts” Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 sits on the flight deck on Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Erin. C. Zorich/Released)

The world’s first and only long-range stealth military fighter, the F-35C is known for its very low observable stealth performance that can evade enemy detection with its multiple sensors such as the AESA, DAS, EOTS radars.

Its main work is to function as an air superiority fighter, reaching 1.6 Mach or 1,200 mph speeds. The Marine Corps version, the F-35B, operates as a vertical take-off aircraft (VTOL) aboard amphibious warfare vessels. However, the F-35C is known to have the largest wingspan out of all variants for catapult launches and weapons loads.

On January 4 earlier this year, an F-35A military jet fighter operated by the South Korean Air Force suffered an emergency belly landing as the landing hear suffered a malfunction and did not extend. Many experts have said that it is difficult to conduct a gear-up landing due to the angle and speed of the modern jet fighter.

A similar event to the one suffered today was when an F-35B operated by the British crashed into the Mediterranean Sea in 2021 while it was taking off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth. The Japanese-operated F-35 also suffered a crash in 2019 when their fighter jet’s pilot Major Akinori Hosomi drove the plane straight into the ocean. The Japanese Ministry of Defense explained that the pilot suffered from spatial disorientation.

F-35C operated by the U.S. Navy employs the Joint Precision Approach and Landing Systems, or JPALS to precisely guide the fighter to the deck in all weather conditions.  It is said to be accurate enough to ensure a consistent trap of the third arresting cable on a carrier deck even at night.

Still Under Investigation

The cause of the very recent crash involving the USS Carl Vinson is still under investigation. However, it was reported that it will still continue operations in the West Philippine Sea along with the USS Abraham Lincoln Strike Group to monitor any militarized or naval aggression by the Chinese Navy. These operations by the U.S. Navy are part of its freedom of navigation exercises over international waters.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) transits the Philippine Sea on Jan. 22, 2022. Operating as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, units assigned to Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Groups, Essex and America Amphibious Ready Groups, and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force are conducting training to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Larissa T. Dougherty)

With the crash, the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier that has served since the 1980s, is able to continue its mission and flight operations. A historic U.S. Navy carrier, it has seen deployments in Operation Desert Strike and was the carrier used to dispose of the remains of al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

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