The US Air Force on 25 March suffered its first fatal accident involving a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, when a test aircraft crashed near Edwards AFB in California.

The fifth-generation fighter came down in the area of Harper Dry Lake about 35 miles northeast of the base at around 10:00 AM local time while it was performing a test flight. The USAF initially listed the pilot's status as unknown, but later confirmed in a statement that Lockheed test pilot David Cooley had died in the accident.

Assigned to the F-22 Combined Test Force at Edwards, Cooley had been employed by F-22 prime contractor Lockheed since 2003 after completing a 21-year career with the air force, the service says.

“A board of officers is investigating the accident through an Accident Investigation Board, whose findings will be released to the public upon completion,” the USAF says.

© US Air Force

Edwards AFB is home to the USAF's 411th Flight Test Squadron, responsible for developmental tests of F-22 enhancements and modernisation, and part of its 412th Test Wing.

Two Raptors had crashed prior to the 25 March accident, including the 2004 loss of a USAF example on take off from Nellis AFB, Nevada. A prototype YF-22 also crashed on landing at Edwards in April 1992 during flight testing.

Most recently, in October 2007, an F-22 nearly crashed at Edwards after suffering a brief, dual-engine flameout while performing a negative-g 360° roll while testing a new weapons loadout.

Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle