A $135 Million Nightmare: The Cost of the F-35B Lightning II Crash

F-35B Joint Strike Fighter Marines
May 29, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-35F-35BMilitaryDefenseU.S. Air ForceAir Force

A $135 Million Nightmare: The Cost of the F-35B Lightning II Crash

An F-35B Lightning II crashed near Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a flight from Fort Worth to Edwards AFB, destroying the $135 million aircraft.


Summary: An F-35B Lightning II crashed near Albuquerque, New Mexico, during a flight from Fort Worth to Edwards AFB, destroying the $135 million aircraft.



-The pilot ejected safely and is receiving treatment.

-This incident marks the 30th crash of the F-35 and highlights ongoing concerns about its costs and maintenance issues.

-The program is projected to cost $1.7 trillion over its service life, with maintenance posing significant challenges.

F-35B Lightning II Crash in New Mexico: Pilot Ejects Safely

The good news on Tuesday was that the pilot survived a crash involving a Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II near the Albuquerque International Sunport. The aircraft was en route from Fort Worth, Texas, to Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, and landed at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, to refuel.

According to local news reports, the fighter crashed and burst into flames, and local responders were forced to call in for help from Kirtland AFB in putting out the blaze. The pilot, who was able to eject before impact, is now being treated at a local hospital.

"The pilot safely ejected. Safety is our priority, and we will follow appropriate investigation protocol," Lockheed Martin said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY.

However, the bad news is that the aircraft was destroyed in the crash. Like a magic trip – albeit not a good one – it made $135 million go up in smoke! It was the second crash involving a military aircraft in New Mexico in the past month and follows an F-16 Fighting Falcon that went down near Holloman AFB in April.

Few Crashes But Each is Massively Expensive

Tuesday's crash will once again put the spotlight on the cost of the F-35. Though the aircraft is closing in on a million flight hours, and more than 1,000 have been delivered to militaries around the world, it reached another milestone with this incident – it was the 30th crash of the fifth-generation stealth fighter.

The F-35 remains one of the Pentagon's most expensive program, and is expected to cost taxpayers a total of $1.7 trillion over the course of its service life.

Another F-35B crashed in rural South Carolina last September, and following that incident, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned that maintenance delays continue to plague the program – with the aircraft only able to perform 55% of the time, while the goal is 85 to 90% of the time. Much of the program cost is on maintaining and operating the jets.

This may also be the 11th aircraft completely destroyed, while other F-35s have either been returned to service or at least refurbished for use as training aids for maintainers and ground crews.


Last year, maintenance experts at Hill AFB, Utah, were able to "stitch" together two mishap-damaged aircraft into a restored – and potentially operational – aircraft. It included an F-35 that experienced a nose landing-gear separation in 2020, and an undamaged hose section from another Lightning II that suffered a serious engine fire six years earlier at Elgin AFB, Florida. Dubbed the "Franken-bird project," it is currently several months ahead of schedule and shows a completion date of March 2025. How that restored aircraft might be employed has yet to be seen.

Unfortunately, the aircraft involved in this week's crash is likely beyond any future due to the fire.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].

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