EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – One of the Air Force’s top-of-the-line F-22 fighter jets crashed Wednesday in the high desert of Southern California, killing a test pilot for prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
The F-22A Raptor crashed at 10 a.m. about 35 miles northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. The Bureau of Land Management identifies the area as Harper Dry Lake, a vast and empty expanse of sometimes marshy flat land.
The pilot was David Cooley, 49, a 21-year Air Force veteran who joined Lockheed Martin in 2003.
A statement issued by Edwards said first responders transported Cooley from the crash scene to Victor Valley Community Hospital in Victorville, where he was pronounced dead.
Cooley, of Palmdale, Calif., was part of a team of company and Air Force pilots who conduct F-22 testing.
A board of officers is investigating the crash, the Edwards statement said. The Air Force urged people to stay away from the site because hazardous materials may have been released.
The jet, assigned to the 411th Flight Test Squadron of Edwards’ 412th Test Wing, was on a test mission.
The radar-evading F-22s each cost $140 million and are designed for air dominance. The warplanes can carry air-to-air missiles but are capable of ground attack as well.
The $65 billion F-22 program is embattled, with some opponents contending that a different warplane under development, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is more versatile and less costly at $80 million per plane.
The U.S. is committed to 183 F-22s, down from the original plan laid out in the 1980s to build 750.