US Navy Fighter Jet Pilot Killed After Crash in California Desert Identified

by TK Sanders

A Navy fighter pilot crashed his jet Friday in Southern California, according to authorities. The pilot died from his injuries. Lt. Richard Bullock was flying F/A-18E Super Hornet equipment based out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, Fox News reported. He went down during a routine training mission in Trona, Calif., in an area that the Navy described as “remote” and unpopulated. Trona is an unincorporated Mojave Desert community in San Bernardino County.

At a glance

  • A Navy fighter pilot flying a jet featured in Top Gun: Maverick died from a crash during a routine training mission
  • The pilot was based in Air Station Lemoore out of Trona, a desert community northeast of Los Angeles
  • Naval Air Station Lemoore hosts 16 operational Strike Fighter squadrons, and around 210,000 flight operations originate out of the base every year
  • Three similar crashes have occurred with the same aircrafts and in the same part of California since 2019, with mixed survival results

“No civilians were harmed as a result of this incident,” the Naval Air Forces Public Affairs Office said in a statement.

The statement also said that local authorities assisted in immediate response and will also help in the recovery efforts.

“The Navy mourns this tragic loss alongside the family, friends and shipmates of Lt. Bullock,” the Navy reiterated. They said they are still investigating the crash.

Two other Navy pilots successfully ejected in 2020 and 2021 during crashes in the same region

Naval Air Station Lemoore hosts 16 operational Strike Fighter squadrons. Around 210,000 flight operations happen at the base every year. The F/A-18E Super Hornet features in the new Top Gun movie, as well. It is an updated version of the F-18C/D aircraft, carrying a 20 percent larger airframe, 7,000 pounds more empty weight, and up to 33 percent more internal fuel.

Super Hornet crashes have become somewhat of a regular occurrence as of late in the California desert. According to NPR, in 2019, a Navy Super Hornet crashed in Death Valley National Park during a routine training mission. The pilot also died, and seven park visitors struck by debris sustained mild injuries. The park visitors had gathered at a specific viewing overlook where aviation enthusiasts watch military pilots train. There, the pilots often speed low through a valley known as Star Wars Canyon.

And then, last October and once prior in 2020, two other Navy Super Hornets from the area crashed, as well. One went down from Naval Air Station China Lake, and the other from Lemoore. Both went down during training missions, too. Luckily in these crashes, the pilots safely ejected, one in a remote southern area of Death Valley National Park near the Nevada border and the other in the Mojave Desert. Both survived their crashes as a result.