A puzzling situation has emerged in South Carolina as an F-35B pilot ejected from their aircraft, leaving the advanced stealth fighter missing. The incident occurred north of Joint-Base Charleston, with the pilot landing safely in a Charleston neighborhood under a parachute and in stable condition. However, the whereabouts of the ejected F-35B remain unknown.
The F-35B originated from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and was part of a two-ship flight, with the other F-35B safely landing at MCAS Beaufort. The circumstances leading to the ejection are undisclosed. The search for the missing aircraft is currently underway in the Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion areas.
Based on the jet’s last-known position and in coordination with the FAA, we are focusing our attention north of JB Charleston, around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion.
— Joint Base Charleston (@TeamCharleston) September 17, 2023
Not the First Time it Happens
Remarkably, fighter aircraft continuing to fly autonomously after a pilot ejects is not unprecedented. Historical cases include the “Cornfield Bomber” and a Soviet MiG-23. These occurrences often result from the aircraft’s momentum and weight distribution:
The missing F-35B, despite being shorter-ranged, could have covered significant distances on autopilot depending on its fuel state. The lack of reports of a crash suggests it may have gone down in a sparsely populated area, making detection challenging. Additionally, issues with the jet’s avionics and its stealthy configuration may complicate tracking efforts.
The absence of a working transponder on the F-35B further hinders locating the aircraft. Joint Base Charleston has solicited public assistance in finding the jet, which has garnered surprise and criticism.
In response, an Air Force Special Operations Command HC-130J is conducting a search pattern from Lake Marion to the North Carolina border, with state police helicopters also involved in the search. The U.S. Marine Corps has initiated a safety stand-down for its entire aviation fleet following recent aviation mishaps to address safety protocols and operational standards.
Additional aircraft are searching to the northwest of lakes, these include Cessna 182 with the Civil Air Patrol and a DoD King Air 200: pic.twitter.com/RXcxsAxiZL
— Tyler Rogoway (@Aviation_Intel) September 18, 2023
Both the Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin have pledged support for the investigation into the missing F-35B. While the pilot’s safety remains paramount, the search for the advanced fighter continues, raising questions about its configuration, avionics, and the challenges of tracking a stealth aircraft in these circumstances.
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