Tue, Jun 11, 2019 - Page 5 News List

F-35 crash due to pilot vertigo: Japan

BEST GUESS:Without a flight data recorder to analyze, the finding is based on data and communications received by ground controllers and interviews with other pilots

Reuters, TOKYO

Two Lockheed Martin F-35A jets participate in a test and evaluation day at the Swiss Army airbase in Payerne, Switzerland, on Saturday, where trials of five different fighters are being held through the end of this month.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force yesterday said that “spatial disorientation” likely caused one of its pilots to fly his F-35 stealth fighter into the Pacific Ocean in April, hitting the water at more than 1,100kph.

The Lockheed Martin Corp jet disappeared from radar screens during an exercise with three other F-35s over the ocean off northwest Japan on April 9.

The 41-year-old pilot was killed.

“We believe it highly likely the pilot was suffering from vertigo or spatial disorientation and wasn’t aware of his condition,” Japanese Minister of Defense Minster Takeshi Iwaya told a briefing. “It can affect any pilot regardless of their experience.”

By dismissing mechanical or software problems as a cause for the advanced fighter’s crash, Japan’s assessment is likely to come as a relief to other countries that operate or plan to introduce the jet, including the US, Britain and Australia.

Japan would increase vertigo training for its pilots, check its remaining F-35s and meet residents living near the base from which they operate, in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, before restarting flights, Iwaya said.

The air force has yet to recover any intact data from the US$126 million aircraft’s flight data recorder to back its assessment, which is based on data and communication received by ground controllers and interviews with other pilots.

The pilot, who had only 60 hours flying time in the F-35, gave no indication he was in trouble and did not try to avoid a collision despite instrumentation and a ground proximity warning system that should have alerted him to pull up.

The air force did not find any indication he had attempted to eject.

His plane, which was less than a year old and part of a squadron that had just became operational, crashed 28 minutes after taking off.

Debris from the plane is spread across the sea floor about 1,500m below where it slammed into the water.

It was the first reported crash by an F-35A, the air force said.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense last week called off its search for the jet. Some parts of the pilot’s body and debris have been recovered, including the jet’s tail.

The ministry has kept monitoring a wider area to protect “classified military information” as Japan and the US are keen to prevent sensitive debris from the plane being recovered by Russia or China.

Japan in December last year said it would buy 45 more F-35 stealth fighters, including some short take-off and vertical landing variants, worth about US$4 billion, adding to the 42 jets it has ordered.

Japan says it eventually wants to field a force of about 150 F-35s, making it the biggest overseas purchaser of the fighter, as it tries to keep ahead of China’s advances in military technology.

Additional reporting by AFP

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