The wreckage of the Royal Air Force F-35B that crashed into the Mediterranean while taking off from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has been recovered after a joint operation carried out by British, US, and Italian forces.
The successful retrieval of the plane was announced on December 8, 2021, by the NATO Allied Air Command.
On November 17, 2021, a Lockheed Martin F-35B crashed into the Mediterranean Sea as it was operating off the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. The pilot managed to eject from the aircraft in time and was later recovered.
Fearing that a competing nation such as Russia could recover critical technology, the United Kingdom and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners rushed to retrieve the ditched aircraft.
The wreckage will help in the investigation to determine the cause of the incident. One theory put forward suggests that an intake cover may have been left on the aircraft and was ingested by the engine, causing it to fail. The British fleet of F-35Bs was not grounded following the incident, which tends to support the hypothesis of an isolated issue.
The F-35B belonged to the Number 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, which received 24 of the 48 aircraft it is due to operate (including the one that crashed). Deliveries should be completed by 2025.
The Air Wing of the HMS Queen Elizabeth is composed of the Number 617 Squadron, a joint squadron formed of personnel from the Royal Air Force and Navy, and the US Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, both operating the F-35B, the Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the Lockheed Martin aircraft.