An F-22A Raptor, the Air Force's top-of-the line fighter jet, crashed Wednesday in a remote area of the Mojave Desert, killing a test pilot for prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
The jet crashed at 10 a.m. about 35 miles northeast of Edwards, a vast unpopulated area of flat desert.
The pilot was David Cooley, 49, a 21-year Air Force veteran who joined Lockheed Martin in 2003, the company said in a statement. The company did not release any details of the accident.
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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.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of David and our concerns, thoughts and prayers at this time are with his family," the statement said.
Sam Grizzle, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., said no additional information would be released.
A board of officers is investigating the accident, the Edwards statement said. The Air Force urged people to stay away from the crash site because hazardous materials may have been released.
"This is a very difficult day for Edwards and those who knew and respected Dave as a warrior, test pilot and friend," said Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn, the Air Force Flight Test Center commander.
Air Force Maj. David Small said the jet, assigned to the 411th Flight Test Squadron of Edwards' 412th Test Wing, was on a test mission but he did not know its nature.
F-22s were grounded for two weeks after one crashed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in December 2004. They were cleared again to fly after a review, and an Air Force statement at the time said officials were "highly confident in the design, testing and development" of the aircraft. The pilot in that crash successfully ejected.
Designed for air dominance, the radar-evading stealthy F-22s each cost $140 million. 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-22, down from the original plan laid out in the 1980s to build 750.
Its prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., says there are 95,000 jobs at 1,000 companies connected to the F-22.
Lockheed is trying to convince the Pentagon to buy as many as 20 more F-22. The military is expected to signal if it wants more when the 2010 Defense Department budget is released next month.
The F-22 is able to fly at supersonic speeds without using afterburners. That allows it to reach and stay in a battlespace faster and longer without being easily detected.
The fighter, powered by two Pratt & Whitney engines, is 62 feet long, has a wingspan of 44½ feet and is flown by a single pilot.