F-35C takes off of aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln
An F-35C launches from USS Abraham Lincoln in the Philippine Sea, February 22, 2022.US Navy/MCS3 Michael Singley
  • Three jets from the US and British have gone off of aircraft carriers.

  • Two jets had problems during flight operations, and one went over in the sea.

  • Naval aviation is complex and can go wrong.

The past year has been difficult for the aviation community.

Three fighter jets, two of which are highly advanced stealth aircraft, have gone over due to accidents.

It's difficult to operate an aircraft on an aircraft carrier.

Costly oversights

F-35B takes off from British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth
An F-35B launches from HMS Queen Elizabeth, June 18, 2021.Royal Navy/LPhot Unaisi Luke

In the Mediterranean Sea, there were incidents in November. During its first operational deployment, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed to the Pacific and back.

An F-35B Lighting II stealth fighter jet went into the water after leaving the carrier's deck during a routine training flight.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth has a ramp that can be used to take off aircraft. The worst time for that to happen is when the jet is approaching the ramp.

The pilot ejected before the plane hit the water.

British navy aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth F-35B
HMS Queen Elizabeth at sea on May 19, 2021.Royal Navy/POPhot Jay Allen

The crew forgot to remove an engine blank, which is a cover that protects the engine from weather and debris when it isn't operating.

This turned out to be an expensive engine blank because of the estimated cost for each F-35B.

People are supposed to look over the jet before it leaves. Tony Rich, a former US Marine sergeant who served as a mechanic on the F-35B, said that not catching the engine blank in the intake is an oversight that should never happen.

"Like so many things, you get away with it because someone had your back or someone saw it in time, but the 1,000th time, it will get you," Rich said.

Multiple screwups

An F-35C launches from USS Carl Vinson in the Philippine Sea, January 9, 2021.US Navy/MCS Seaman Larissa T. Dougherty

There was an accident in the South China Sea. The pilot of a US Navy F-35C Lighting II stealth fighter jet appeared to miss his approach and hit the edge of the flight deck.

After being recovered under the nose of the Chinese Navy, the F-35C was lifted out of the water by a Chinese ship.

It was an expensive loss for the Pentagon when the F-35C was deployed for the first time on the aircraft carrier.

The last of the accidents took place in the Mediterranean. An F/A-18E Super Hornet was blown off the ship after a storm.

One sailor was injured but is expected to make a full recovery.

Sailors man a phone-and-distance line aboard USS Harry S. Truman during a replenishment-at-sea on June 10, 2022.US Navy/MCS Seaman Charles Blaine

The incident is still under investigation despite the fact that the jet was recovered this month. An underway replenishment is a tricky operation in which a supply ship sails alongside a warship and carries supplies across cables.

Rich said that it was possible that the jet had just returned to the deck or was being towed into position.

Rich said that some of the chains used to tie down jets are old. They don't stay in one place. It's true. It would mean someone messed up in terms of not building the brake pressure if it was blown but rolled on its wheels.

Rich said that the British F-35B accident was similar to the one in the US.

'If it doesn't grow, it goes'

Sailors aboard USS Harry S. Truman conduct a foreign object debris walk on June 8, 2022.US Navy/MCS Seaman Anthony Robledo

Any kind of debris is not allowed on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Rich said that a pebble or a tiny washer or nut is enough to bring down an entire aircraft and that the crew does a FOD Walk at the beginning and end of every shift.

Before and after each task and at the beginning and end of each shift, crews have to account for all tools, no matter the size. A missing wrench can cause a squadron to be grounded.

There are other complicating factors that make life difficult for naval pilots and crews. Increased operational tempos are one of the most prominent.

An F-35B aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, October 13, 2019.LPhot Daniel Shepherd/UK Ministry of Defence

Maintenance control and operations try to keep jets up so pilots can get training. Quality assurance is always trying to make sure everything is done correctly. The pressure to maintain the flight schedule can cause corners to be cut.

Combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria can lead to higher operational tempos, as can strict training regimes.

Higher speeds can lead to fatigue. Fatal incidents involving US Navy ships have been attributed to fatigue.

The maintainers and pilots chosen for deployment are generally more experienced, Rich said, "so a lot of time I'd say it's just fatigue and complacence that can get the best of a crew."

A Hellenic Army veteran, a defense journalist specializing in special operations, and a graduate of a prestigious university are just some of the things that Stavros Atlamazoglou is.

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