This is how a $112 million fighter jet ended up in 12,000 feet of water.
- A Command Investigation into a January 2022 F-35C crash blames pilot error for the incident.
- The crash injured six aboard the USS Carl Vinson, damaged the ship, and ultimately left the strike fighter at the bottom of the South China Sea.
- The aircraft was later recovered from two miles underwater.
A January 2022 incident that saw an F-35C Lightning II fighter jet crash onto the deck of an aircraft carrier, spin like a top, and then go over the side of the ship was the pilot’s fault, according to the Command Investigation team that reviewed the incident. The jet also damaged another fighter parked on the carrier, marred the surface of the flight deck, damaged a firefighting vehicle, and sent six sailors to the hospital.
The report, which U.S. Naval Institute News obtained and posted online last month, is 36 pages long and describes the findings of the accident investigation team. It also includes recommendations to prevent future incidents.
Not Your Typical Landing
An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter makes an arrested landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, October 2014.U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.
According to the report, the unnamed pilot wanted to try a “Sierra Hotel Break” maneuver, an “expedited recovery” process that lands an aircraft on an aircraft carrier faster than the routine method.
A typical carrier landing involves an aircraft approaching a carrier from the rear, making minute adjustments to place it on the correct glide path, and then landing. It’s a straightforward affair designed to minimize risk. A Sierra Hotel Break involves a fighter jet approaching a carrier from the rear without intention to land. As the plane passes the carrier flight deck below, the pilot initiates a 360-degree turn. G-forces quickly decelerate the aircraft, and at the end of the turn, the aircraft is behind the carrier, positioned to conduct a quick landing.
The report describes expedited recoveries as commonplace and even beneficial to carrier operations, as it lands planes more quickly and leads to greater flight-deck efficiencies. The Navy report emphasizes there is nothing wrong with them—as long as they are conducted safely.
The Sierra Hotel Break (“Sierra Hotel” is phonetic slang for “Sh-t Hot”) is a dramatic way to land, a display of skill that gets a lot of attention from the flight deck, as the aircraft screams overhead and then executes a tight turn. In the incident, the F-35C flew over the carrier at 425–428 miles per hour at an altitude of 2,000 feet. As the pilot banked through the 360-degree turn, he was exposed to 7 Gs, or seven times the normal gravitational force, for a total of nine seconds.
Source: Popular Mechanics