The United States Navy lost one of its prized F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets when it was blown of the decks off the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Harry Truman during exercises in the Mediterranean.
The aircraft is one of 530 the US Navy has in its fleet. Fortunately, no one was seriously harmed when it toppled into the sea.
According to a spokesperson it was the extreme weather that caused the aircraft to go overboard. So far, no announcement has been made concerning the jet’s retrieval.
F/A-18 Super Hornet is sitting on the sea floor
Although it is valued at approximately $80 million (USD), its recovery could prove extremely expensive and a difficult one to accomplish. The aircraft is a two-seat model that has weapons systems and censors on board, and some insiders say that makes it likely the US Navy will attempt to recover it from the sea floor.
Only one crew member was injured during the incident, but the US Navy has said he is recovering from non life threatening injuries. Navy officials say that an investigation into precisely what occurred is ongoing, and further details will be released when they have more information.
The aircraft carrier was patrolling in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy. The ship and its strike group were deployed to Europe in December, 2021. An extension of that deployment was announced in the spring. The ship remains, the US Navy said, “mission capable,” and has not been ordered to return to U.S. waters.
The F/A-18 Hornet jets were first acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1978. Designed for combat, they carry a variety of weapons and cockpit systems. Boeing took over manufacturing the jets from McDonnell Douglas back in 1997 and have since produced several upgrades. They have been used in combat situations, including the 1986 bombing of Libya, and both the Gulf and Iraq wars.
They are generally widely praised for their design and efficiency, but they have also received some criticism over the years. Most complaints suggest the Hornet needs a better bomb payload capability. Overall, however, the jets have been championed by both US Navy officials and by the pilots themselves.
The incident in the Mediterranean was a highly unusual occurrence. It was in the midst of “at sea replenishment,” as the Navy described it, that the jet was destabilized by heavy rains and gale-strength winds. The Navy has not said whether the Hornet was chained down at the time, a precaution often taken when bad weather threatens the safety of anyone on board the carrier or near a jet.
And while some have described the incident as bizarre, it is not unprecedented.
In 1995, an F-14 Tomcat fighter jet was blown off the deck of the carrier the USS Independence. In that instance, it wasn’t weather that was to blame – it was another jet. The aircraft was firing its engines in preparation for take-off, and it blew the Tomcat into the ocean!
Such an incident, whether weather related or the fault of another jet, sounds incredulous, considering that Hornets weigh approximately 32 tons when fully loaded. Even when one is not loaded, it weighs more than 14 tons. But when ships are at sea, particularly in unpredictable weather, anything is possible.
As one US Navy observer put it, “You have to always be ready to face heavy weather at sea…. A simple storm can be more effective than a hail of missiles.”
The USS Harry Truman is based at the Naval Air Station Oceana, at Virginia Beach, Virginia. It has not headed home, remaining in the Mediterranean for the moment. The US Navy said that apart from the one seaman who was slightly injured, “the mission was safely terminated through established procedures.”
What happens next, whether the US Navy decides to retrieve the Super Hornet at the bottom of the sea or not, remains to be determined.