Marine Corps F-35B Ends Up Nose-Down In Japan

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighter today suffered damage after a nose-gear collapse at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in Japan. The short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) jet was under tow when the incident happened, having just returned to the base for a precautionary landing. The jet is home-based at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan.

The incident occurred at around 1:40 PM, local time, after the F-35B had touched down and was being towed back to the flight line. In a video, the jet is seen bumping up and down in an unusual way as it’s towed. The nose gear oleo then gives way and the aircraft ends up sitting on its nose on the taxiway. No injuries were reported to any of those involved and the jet was soon surrounded by firefighting and other emergency vehicles.

Maj. Rob Martins, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, stated in a release that the pilot of the jet, operated by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), the “Green Knights,” had been forced to return to base after a suspected electrical problem.

“The pilot performed as trained and chose the safest option, landing the aircraft safely in accordance with standard procedures… Operating our aircraft safely and effectively is a top priority and our aviators take great precautions to ensure the safety of the aircrew and the surrounding areas.”

At the time of the incident, the F-35B had been flying a routine training mission, making use of local ranges.

The “Green Knights” received its first F-35Bs in November 2012 and declared initial operational capability (IOC) in July 2015, before relocating permanently to Iwakuni in January 2017. The squadron has since developed considerable shipborne expertise, becoming the first Lightning II unit to deploy at sea, embarking six F-35Bs aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) in March 2018.

F-35Bs from VMFA-121 go aboard USS Wasp for the first time:

F-35s, of all versions, have been involved in a number of mishaps, including several total airframe losses. The most significant incidents to have affected the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B fleet, in particular, include a pair of crashes, which we reported on here and here, while the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force also lost an F-35B in a dramatic carrier in an accident in November last year that we detailed at the time.

There have also been several ground incidents, including engine fires, and it’s notable, too, that there have been previous undercarriage failures. In at least one such incident, the jet in question (a U.S. Air Force F-35A) had an issue in flight and its nose gear collapsed after it touched down and had parked.

Separately, the U.S. Navy’s F-35 carrier variant of the stealth jet has historically had issues with its nose gear, a result of nose strut compression right before launch. Since the F-35C model has a different nose gear design for carrier launch, this has not applied to the other models.

As to the aircraft involved in today’s mishap, it’s unclear to what degree the aircraft has been damaged, although a “detailed investigation” is now being conducted that will address this, as well as what went wrong in the first place.

We will continue to update this story once more information becomes available.

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