The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is widely considered to be the most advanced air combat platform ever to take to the skies, but with the increased capabilities allotted by new technologies comes an inherent drawback: the possibility that the technology can fail. That’s exactly the situation Captain Robert Larson, a student F-35 pilot assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, found himself in this past May.

While flying a routine training mission in the F-35, Larson started noticing system failures.

“I was pretty high up, about 34,000 feet, and all of a sudden everything got really quiet,” Larson recounted. “I tried to call my flight lead and realized I couldn’t talk to anybody.”

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook)

Facing multiple system failures and the loss of communications in any kind of aircraft would be daunting, let alone in the most expensive and complicated fighter ever devised. The platform uses two on-board computers to manage flight operations and its suite of data fusion capabilities, as well as two constantly connected, encrypted networks that identify and inform the pilot about incoming threats and track maintenance and logistical needs. Every input offered by the pilot through the controls is interpreted and relayed through the flight computers into action taken by the aircraft.