Even though the pilot approached the runway too fast as he was trying to land, his actions were not the only factor in the May 19 crash of his F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
An accident investigation board determined that faulty flight control logic, trouble with the helmet-mounted display, the oxygen system, and less than perfect simulator training also contributed significantly to the mishap.
The board determined that the airspeed at landing – 200 knots – exceeded the recommended maximum by 50 knots. The pilot also was bringing the aircraft in at an approach angle that was too shallow as well.
The report also identified a “previously undiscovered anomaly in the aircraft’s flight control logic.” Because of it, the pilot and the automated system that manages the tail flight controls were not working together. The controls commanded the plane to direct the nose downward while the pilot tried to point it upward, with the intent of aborting the landing. At that point, as the pilot recognized that the system was ignoring his commands, he made the decision to eject. He sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries, getting pieces of canopy glass and “other foreign objects” lodged in his eye and arm, as well as a spinal compression.
Additionally, the pilot was distracted by a misaligned helmet-mounted display, and the breathing system was not functioning properly, which caused the pilot to become fatigued. Because of inadequate simulator training, the pilot “lacked sufficient knowledge of the aircraft’s flight control system,” the Air Force stated.
The plane and pilot were attached to the 58th Fighter Squadron. Once the pilot ejected, the $176 million aircraft rolled and hit the runway. It was declared a total loss. The incident occurred at the end of a night training mission. The pilot was an instructor, teaching air combat techniques to a student.