An F-35B Lightning II arrived in the Florida Panhandle on June 13 to its new home at Naval Air Station Pensacola, but definitely not the way you might expect.
The offshore supply ship Navy Relentless had a shrink-wrapped short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) stealth fighter on deck when it arrived at the base's deep-water port.
Identifiable only by shape thanks to the protective white wrapping, the radome-less F-35B is headed to the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) Air Department for crash and salvage training, according to a NAS Pensacola Facebook post.
The odd cargo being shipped around Florida drew some interest — mixed with confusion — from bystanders earlier in the week. A Reddit post on r/aviation shows the Navy Relentless steaming about 15 miles off Islamorada in the Florida Keys on its way to Pensacola.
In February, The War Zone wrote about a similar delivery to nearby Eglin Air Force Base with a Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) ferrying a CH-46 Sea Knight from NAS Pensacola, which you can read more about here.
What airframe this is and exactly where it came from is unclear. It's possible that it's a non-flying test article a very early test aircraft that is now grounded, but it's more likely that it's an aircraft that was written off due to a mishap. To our knowledge, the only F-35B that could possibly fit that bill is one damaged by an in-flight fire on October 27th, 2015, over MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina. That aircraft was written off, which would have made it a great candidate as a ground instruction tool.
Why it was transported by ship is another unanswered question, although that may make sense if it was coming from South Carolina. More details on how it will be used would also be good to have. With all this in mind, we posed these inquiries to NAS Pensacola and hope to hear back soon. We will update you when we do.
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