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Footage emerges of the moment F-35 jet topples off the end of HMS Queen Elizabeth's runway


Furious Royal Navy bosses were last night hunting for a sailor who leaked film of a £100million British warplane crashing into the sea on take-off from an aircraft carrier.

In a shocking security breach, the 16-second clip was copied using a smartphone and put on Twitter.

The incident triggered a frantic underwater race to find the wreckage of the F-35B stealth jet and secure the crash site a mile below the surface before Russian divers could get there first.

The cause of the crash is under investigation, but it is thought that a red plastic rain cover for the jet was accidentally left on and sucked into an engine. 

New footage has emerged which appears to show the moment a £100m fighter jet crashes into the Mediterranean during an operation onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth on November 17

New footage has emerged which appears to show the moment a £100m fighter jet crashes into the Mediterranean during an operation onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth on November 17

Video appears to capture the moment the pilot ejects from the jet as it leaves the flight deck

Video appears to capture the moment the pilot ejects from the jet as it leaves the flight deck

Jet disappears over the edge of the aircraft carrier and the pilot's parachute floats into view

Jet disappears over the edge of the aircraft carrier and the pilot’s parachute floats into view

The unknown sailor held their phone against a computer screen to copy a CCTV recording from HMS Queen Elizabeth’s control tower in the Mediterranean Sea.

The grainy footage, which the Navy confirmed was genuine last night, shows the F-35B Lightning II taxiing along the runway aboard the £3billion aircraft carrier before toppling off the end and ditching into the water.

The jet, which is loaded with top-secret radar equipment and sensors, remains at the bottom of the sea after the incident a fortnight ago.

The clip shows the jet appear to struggle to accelerate as it approaches the take-off ramp. Crew on the flight deck then watch in horror as it plunges over the edge.

Officials believe the rain cover was sucked into the F-35B Lightning II (pictured) stealth plane's engine as it took off from the flight deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, forcing the pilot to eject

Officials believe the rain cover was sucked into the F-35B Lightning II (pictured) stealth plane’s engine as it took off from the flight deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, forcing the pilot to eject

The pilot, who suffered minor injuries, ejected and his parachute can be seen floating down towards the water. He was quickly recovered but the jet glided underwater to an estimated depth of more than a mile.

The film is of poor quality and not operationally sensitive, but its appearance on social media has dismayed Navy bosses.

A source said: ‘What is someone doing recording that on their phone and putting it out there for everyone to speculate about? There’s a trust issue here.

‘The crash is a sensitive matter – whoever is behind this has forgotten that… If that person is found they’ll be in deep trouble and will lose any security clearance they have.’

It was one of eight British F-35s aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. Overall, the UK has 24 F-35s and this was the first major incident involving any.

It is a cutting-edge warplane with stealth and intelligence-gathering capabilities which can fly at supersonic speeds without being detected on radar.

It recently emerged that Russia had been playing close attention to the Queen Elizabeth with a significant increase in aircraft activity nearby. The 65,000-ton ship is sailing back to Britain after her maiden voyage around the world.

This map shows the approximate location of the crash on Wednesday 17 November

This map shows the approximate location of the crash on Wednesday 17 November

The footage was shared by defence commentator Seb Haggart, believed to be a former member of the Royal Navy, who posted the video on his Twitter page earlier today.

Andy Netherwood, a former RAF pilot, said on Twitter that the leak itself would be a ‘source of concern’ for the Royal Navy.

He added: ‘In the long term, that may have bigger ramifications than the F-35B accident itself.’

In the days following the crash, reports suggested it may have been caused because a rain cover had not been properly removed prior to take-off.

 

Officials believe the rain cover was sucked into the F-35B Lightning II (pictured) stealth plane’s engine as it took off from the flight deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, forcing the pilot to eject

Officials believe the rain cover was sucked into the F-35B Lightning II stealth plane’s engine as it took off from the flight deck of the UK’s flagship aircraft carrier.

Sources told the Sun the RAF pilot realised the issue and tried to abort take-off but was unable to stop the plane before the end of the ship’s runway.

They said naval personnel realised the issue ‘almost right away’ because rules around removing covers and engine blanks before flights are ‘incredibly strict’.

The video shows the jet slowly approach the end of the runway before it topples over and prompted concerns over whether the jet hit the aircraft carrier on the way down before it landed in the sea.

Commander Tom Sharpe, a former Royal Navy officer told Sky News: ‘Given how close the aircraft ditched to the bow, and the speed of the ship on launch, the likelihood of it hitting the bow of the ship (under the waterline) would be quite high.

‘Warship steel is not that thick so, even despite the weight discrepancy between the two, I would want the compartments near the bow checked immediately… I would then want the hull dived on at the first opportunity, just to be sure.’

It is understood the UK is now working with the US on a mission to recover the wreckage which is believed to be more than a mile below the surface amid fears Russia would try to salvage what’s left of the plane to examine the tech onboard.

The incident is the first mishap for the RAF’s F-35B fleet and for the £3billion aircraft carrier which left the UK seven months ago.

The crash triggered a scramble to recover the next-generation jet from the sea before it could be reached by foreign powers, particularly Russia. Above: File image of HMS Queen Elizabeth

The crash triggered a scramble to recover the next-generation jet from the sea before it could be reached by foreign powers, particularly Russia. Above: File image of HMS Queen Elizabeth

The technology onboard the US-designed aircraft, including top secret radar and sensors, is hugely sensitive as it allows the F-35 to fly ‘unseen’ in hostile territory at supersonic speeds.

Royal Navy servicemen are working with the Americans to recover the F-35B Lightning II from more than a mile below the surface.

The operation, shrouded in secrecy, is understood to involve divers, miniature submarines and inflatable bags which may be used to lift the plane to the surface of the Mediterranean.

The crash triggered a scramble to recover the next-generation jet from the sea before it could be reached by foreign powers, particularly Russia. Above: File image of HMS Queen Elizabeth

The US is anxious that the jet’s top secret technology is not salvaged by Russia or any of its allies as they would want to study the stealth technology closely to find a way of defeating the jet.

The Lightning is described by the RAF as a fifth generation combat aircraft capable of conducting air-to-surface strikes and electronic warfare.

The aircraft uses an array of sensors to operate undetected in enemy airspace. There were understood to be not only eight British F-35s aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth but also ten US aircraft.

They have conducted some 2,000 take-offs and landings without incident. When not deployed on the carrier, the UK’s F-35Bs are stationed at RAF Marham in Norfolk as part of 617 Squadron (the ‘Dambusters’).

Last night the Ministry of Defence said: ‘We are aware of a video circulating online. It is too soon to comment on causes…

‘Recovery efforts are ongoing and the Defence Accident Investigation Branch will report back their preliminary findings in due course.’

 

F-35: How the planes serving HMS Elizabeth have been plagued with problems

The delivery of the RAF’s new, US-built F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in July 2021  marked a rare moment of celebration in what has been a troubled project.

The ‘fifth generation’ fighter aircraft is the world’s most expensive weapons system, though costs have finally stabilised at an eye-watering $406billion.

Manufacturer Lockheed-Martin agreed to cap costs after US President Donald Trump critised the project and even tweeted support for a rival aircraft. 

Britain is currently embarked on a £9.1billion programme to purchase 48 of the F-35s, from American aviation giant Lockheed Martin, by 2025.

One of the first four F-35B Lightning II aircraft arrives at RAF Marham in Norfolk on June 6, 2018

One of the first four F-35B Lightning II aircraft arrives at RAF Marham in Norfolk on June 6, 2018

America enticed its Nato and other allies into sharing the cost of the aircraft by offering input into manufacture and 15 per cent of each one is comprised of parts from British companies while some of the jets will be made in Italy.

But the planes have been plagued by a catalogue of problems which have sent costs soaring.

There are fears about shortcomings in the technical systems underpinning the new generation of war planes will leave them unable to function properly.

The true cost of the British planes delivered this year is estimated to be over £150million each to cover ‘extras’ such as software upgrades and spare parts.

There are also concerns plane’s software system is vulnerable to cyber-attack and cannot be tested independently by the UK.

The weak broadband on the Royal Navy’s principal aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is also hampering the jet’s abilities.

 

 

The problems are not helped by the department responsible for the computer networks essential to the aircraft’s operation needs to find savings of £400 million this year.

The reports into the costs and other problems prompted the Defence Select Committee to launch an inquiry into the project.

It reprimanded the Ministry of Defence for keeping parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.

The MoD has so far refused to provide the estimated cost to the UK of buying the F-35, beyond referring to a National Audit Office which used the £9.1billion figure.

MPs said ‘it is simply not acceptable for the MoD to refuse to disclose to parliament and the public its estimates for the total cost of the programme’.

 

 

Though the cost of the F-35 has been the focus of attention, there have also been embarrassing reports of operational shortcomings emerging from the United States.

In a mock air battle in 2015, the cutting edge plane was defeated by an older generation F-16, a plane designed in the 1970s.

In 2020 Pentagon tests found 276 different faults in jet’s combat system.

They included the 25mm cannon vibrating excessively and problems with the he aircraft’s ‘virtual reality’ helmet

Overheating, premature wear of components in the vertical tails and vulnerability to fire were also found to be issues.

The US Air Force temporarily grounded dozens its F-35 stealth fighters while it investigated an oxygen supply issue.

The Marine Corps, who also operate the same F-35B model the UK has purchased, was forced to ground its planes after flaws were found in the  computer system.



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