Ejection seat on the missing US F-35 may have fried its electronics

A marine pilot ejected from his F-35B fighter jet near Charleston, South Carolina on Sunday. Despite the pilot’s survival, the jet’s location is unknown. The news has sparked commentary on the social media platform ‘X’, formerly Twitter. 

Experts suggest the jet’s disappearance could be due to technical design. Search operations are ongoing around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion and at Joint Base Charleston. The pilot landed safely near Charleston International Airport. 

Joint Base Charleston has asked for public help in finding the F-35, asking tips be called into the Base Defense Operations Center at 843-963-3600. 

Lockheed Martin, the contractor for the F-35, is aware of the incident and grateful for the pilot’s safe ejection. They are assisting in the investigation. The F-35B has a range of over 900 nautical miles, roughly 1,000 standard miles.

Russ Goemaere, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office, stated the pilot’s safety and well-being are crucial. They aim to work with the USMC, industry, and all stakeholders in the ongoing investigation, according to Breaking Defense. 

The missing jet’s stealth capabilities attempt to locate it more difficult. Authorities have yet to find its exact whereabouts. Possible autopilot activation after the pilot’s ejection is speculated. 

Su-57's vertical stabilizers give it an advantage over the F-22 - F-35
Photo credit: USAF

A spokesman from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort wouldn’t confirm the autopilot theory, simply stating the incident is under investigation. The missing jet belongs to the VMFAT-501 training squadron. 

If the F-35 remained airborne via autopilot, it’s likely now out of fuel, according to analyst JJ Gertler from the Teal Group. Even though unmanned flight is possible, physics would eventually interfere.

Gertler explained that the removal of the airplane’s canopy and potential damage from the pilot’s emergency exit could affect its aerodynamics. Also, the use of rocket motors in the ejection seat could have inadvertently damaged the cockpit’s central electronics. 

After further examination of the flight path, Gertler believes a more accurate prediction of the aircraft’s location can be made. Highlighting the aircraft’s advanced vertical takeoff and landing capability, he commented, “If the jet was hovering, the wreckage would have been near the ejection site, but it wasn’t”. 

The situation was further complicated by The Washington Post’s report that the aircraft’s transponder was non-functional. Gertler suggested, “If the jet crashed after takeoff, the transponder should have been working at such a low altitude.” He added, “If it was higher, the plane wreckage might have drifted further, with the transponder possibly turning off after the pilot’s ejection.” 

Gertler also noted the powerful stealth capabilities of the fighter jet, which makes it virtually invisible to radar, and often uses a Lunenberg lens to increase its radar signature. Based on these reports, he hopes that the missing aircraft will be recovered from the lake bed. This would mark the third F-35 recovery from underwater in global aviation history, following instances in Japan and the UK.

Some officials still have questions about the unusual event despite detailed explanations. 

Nancy Mace, a House Republican Representative from parts of Charleston, publicly voiced her question, “How can an F-35 be lost? It should have a tracking device.” She added incredulously, “Are we to think that a civilian might find and return a jet?”


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