Here Is What We Know About Yesterday’s British F-35B Crash

F-35B crash
A British F-35B prepares to takeoff from the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. (Photo: UK MoD)

The aircraft went down soon after takeoff this morning while the HMS Queen Elizabeth was sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Probably, recovery operation underway.

As you may know by now, a British F-35B crashed in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov. 17, 2021, around 10AM GMT. The aircraft was one of the eight British F-35s and ten U.S. Marine Corps F-35s currently embarked aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier. A very short statement by the UK Ministry of Defence Press Office, released this afternoon, stated that the pilot was rescued and returned to the ship following a successful ejection.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, as quoted by BBC’s Defence Correspondent Jonathan Beale, provided some further details, saying that the F-35 ditched soon after taking off from the aircraft carrier and that operational and training flights onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth are continuing despite the incident. Some reports mentioned the possibility of a British pilot flying on a US jet, however it has been later confirmed that both the pilot and the F-35B were indeed British.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently on her way back to the UK from the maiden operational deployment with the recently established Carrier Strike Group. The 28-week deployment, which has been dubbed Carrier Strike Group 2021, brought the British aircraft carrier to the troubled waters of the Indo-Pacific region as the flagship of the largest naval and air task force under British command since the Falklands war. The CSG was planned to visit 40 nations during the 26,000-nautical-mile cruise.

Naval AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) data showed the HMS Queen Elizabeth CSG passing through the Suez Canal during yesterday’s afternoon, as seen on multiple ship tracking websites like MarineTraffic. The info was also confirmed by satellite imagery. This restricts the area where the mishap happened to the area between Egypt, Cyprus and Crete. If the ship was to make a port call in Cyprus like it did in July before moving to the Red Sea, this would restrict even more the area that needs to be considered.

In either case, the F-35 wreck on the Mediterranean seafloor is quite a sensitive matter, as the area where the mishap happened is relatively close to the Russian bases in Syria. This crash sparks concerns similar to the ones that followed the crash of a Japanese F-35 in 2019, when reports mentioned the risks of Russian and Chinese units trying to recover the missing fuselage in the attempt to exploit its remains to gather intelligence about the F-35’s low observable and sensor technology.

In that occasion, the F-35 crashed in an area about 130 km from Misawa AB where the water depth was deemed to be about 10,000 feet. This might also be similar to yesterday’s crash, as it happened in open water with depths that can exceed, in some areas, over 3,000 meters, which correspond to about 10,000 feet. The area is also highly trafficked, given the proximity to the Suez Canal, and combined with the extreme depth, this reduces the chances of another country finding and exploiting any of the plane’s remains.

Even if someone succeeded, it is unlikely to gather useful data, as we wrote in a previous article here at The Aviationist:

“It could present problems depending on what is recovered, when it is recovered and, above all, in which conditions, after impacting the surface of the water,” our own David Cenciotti told Fox News via email. “The F-35 is a system of systems and its Low Observability/stealthiness is a system itself. It is obtained with a particular shape of the aircraft, a certain engine and the use of peculiar materials and systems all those are managed and tightly integrated by million lines of software code: this means that it would be extremely difficult to reverse engineer the aircraft by recovering debris and broken pieces from the ocean bed. However, there are still lots of interesting parts that could be studied to get some interesting details: a particular onboard sensor or something that can’t be seen from the outside but could be gathered by putting your hands on chunks of the aircraft intakes or exhaust section, on the radar reflectors etc.”

Yesterday’s F-35 mishap should be the sixth where the aircraft has been lost since it entered service, and the first non-US B-model crash. As of today, the list counts two US and one Japanese F-35A and two US and one British F-35B. Before the crash, the UK had 24 F-35Bs delivered, of which three in the USA for testing, eight on the HMSQE and the remaining ones at RAF Marham.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.