F-35 Crashes Outside of Albuquerque Airport; Pilot in Serious Condition

Conventional landing of a F-35B Lightning II
A pilot conducts conventional landing of a F-35B Lightning II, Feb. 26, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Drew Verbis)

An Air Force test pilot was sent to the hospital in serious condition Tuesday afternoon after the F-35B Lightning II they were flying crashed near Albuquerque, New Mexico, service officials and the aircraft's manufacturer told Military.com.

Several fire departments responded to reports of the crash just before 2 p.m. local time, and a spokesperson for Albuquerque Fire Rescue said that the pilot of the jet was transported to a local hospital with serious injuries.

The jet was en route to Edwards Air Force Base in California from Fort Worth, Texas, when the incident occurred, according to a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, which builds the fifth-generation fighter jets. The F-35 crashed after a refueling stop at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, just outside of the Albuquerque International Sunport, an airport.

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"The pilot safely ejected," the Lockheed spokesperson said in a statement to Military.com on Tuesday evening. "Safety is our priority, and we will follow appropriate investigation protocol."

In an update Wednesday, the spokesperson said that the jet had been transferring to the California base before the crash for additional test equipment modifications after it had been worked on in Fort Worth.

    The F-35 was a test aircraft, a defense official told Military.com on Wednesday. It was the Marine Corps variant of the aircraft -- the F-35B -- but was being flown by an Air Force pilot, the Air Force confirmed.

    "A U.S. Air Force pilot, assigned to the Defense Contract Management Agency, was injured after ejecting from a Lockheed Martin F-35B en route to Edwards Air Force Base May 28," Department of the Air Force spokesperson Rose Riley told Military.com. "The member was transported to a local hospital, where they remain in serious but stable condition."

    Two civilians were assessed at the scene, a fire official said, but were not transported for care. ABC News reported that fire at the crash site had been extinguished.

    Tuesday's crash marks the latest incident with an F-35B. A pilot ejected from an F-35 over South Carolina in September, and the jet subsequently went missing for a day before being located.

    In late December 2022, an F-35B crashed on the runway of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth during a vertical landing attempt. That pilot, an Air Force major doing tests on behalf of the Defense Contract Management Agency, was sent to the hospital and was later released after healing from minor injuries.

    That incident prompted F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office officials to ground some models of the F-35 and pause deliveries of the aircraft. It also prompted them in February 2023 to identify a "rare system phenomenon" in F135 engines, which they noticed during inspections. They resumed deliveries the following month.

    A representative from the Joint Program Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Military.com.

    Related: After Daylong Search, Likely F-35 Debris Found After Jet Went Missing in South Carolina

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