The United States military is asking for assistance in finding a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter that went missing “somewhere” over South Carolina after the pilot was forced to eject due to a mishap with the aircraft.
The incident occurred on Sunday afternoon, and the pilot was able to safely eject and was taken to a local medical center in stable condition.
However, the location of the F-35B – the short/vertical takeoff and landing (SVTOL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter – remains unknown as of Monday morning.
Joint Base Charleston announced that the aircraft was from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. A second aircraft was able to return to the base without incident.
“We’re working with @MCASBeaufortSC to locate an F-35 that was involved in a mishap this afternoon. The pilot ejected safely. If you have any information that may help our recovery teams locate the F-35, please call the Base Defense Operations Center at 843-963-3600,” Joint Base Charleston (@TeamCharleston) announced via social media. It added, “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.”
The search continued on Monday morning, and the United States Marine Corps took over the investigation and communications.
“I don’t know if the search parameters have shifted,” said Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston.
Autopilot and Stealth
The F-35B was reported to be left in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected, while the fighter jet’s transponder – which usually helps track an aircraft – was not working according to The Washington Post.
Apparently, the advanced fighter’s stealth technology was working a little too well.
The incident has been met with considerable backlash on social media, including from lawmakers in the Palmetto State.
“How in the hell do you lose an F-35? How is there not a tracking device and we’re asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?,” asked Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) in a post to X – the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Others on social media were quick to mock the missing aircraft with “Missing Jet” fliers and notices on milk cartons, and even a number of mashed-up “Dude, Where’s My F-35” movie posters.
Though the F-35 is considered to be among the most capable combat aircraft in service today, the program has been marred by a number of high-profile accidents and mishaps. Around a dozen of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft have been destroyed in crashes since it entered service in 2015 according to U.S. Air Force data.
However, that rate is no worse than other aircraft types, The Wall Street Journal reported.
This is not the first time, however, that there has been an issue with an F-35 in South Carolina. Another F-35B crashed in 2018 in Beaufort County due to a manufacturing defect in a fuel tube. The U.S. military temporarily grounded its entire fleet of F-35s following that mishap.
F-35B Key Facts
The United States Marine Corps variant of the F-35, “Bravo,” features short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities. STOVL allows the airframe to operate from short-field bases and a range of air-capable ships. The Bravo variant can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways, typically at major Marine Corps bases.
The Bravo has a shorter wingspan than the F-35 C “Charlie” variant – the U.S. Navy’s carrier-based model – measuring 35 feet in length.
While all three F-35 variants are very similar in capabilities, the F-35B specifically fits the needs of the Marine Corps. Unlike the F-35C, the Charlie does not have the carrier-based CV/CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) feature that is designed for the U.S. Navy’s mission sets.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.