- After a pilot was forced to eject amid a “mishap” on Sunday afternoon, an F-35 stealth aircraft went missing.
- It’s unknown whether the jet crashed or if it kept flying while on autopilot.
- It may have continued to fly, as some reports suggest, which would be similar to a Cold War episode involving a Soviet aircraft.
Authorities and residents in South Carolina are searching extensively for a mysteriously vanished F-35 stealth fighter, especially in light of the possibility that the aircraft may have continued to fly independently for some time after its pilot ejected.
Even though a renegade jet flying on autopilot might be unexpected, it wouldn’t be the first time a military aircraft has continued to fly after losing its pilot. For instance, a Soviet pilot who bailed from his plane around the conclusion of the Cold War saw it fly off without him and continue flying for more than 500 miles.
Joint Base Charleston reported a “mishap involving an F-35B Lightning II jet” on Sunday afternoon. The pilot was forced to eject. Joint Base Charleston asked the public for assistance in identifying the missing jet but provided no other information about the occurrence or what particularly caused the ejection.
The base posted on Facebook that “Emergency response teams are still trying to locate the F-35,” and on X, the website that replaced Twitter, it urged users to call in if they had “any information that may help our recovery teams locate the F-35.”
According to the jet’s last known location, Joint Base Charleston further stated that attempts to find the aircraft would be concentrated north of the base, “around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion,” in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Although the Joint Base Charleston spokesperson, Jeremy Huggins, told NBC News that the jet was left in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected from the aircraft, meaning it may have remained airborne for a while, as of midday on Monday, authorities were confident that it was no longer flying, there has been no official confirmation or denial of whether the aircraft crashed.
The lost F-35 was last monitored in the regions where flight radar data revealed the tracks taken by aircraft hunting for it.
When Insider asked about whether the autopilot was on and if the plane might have continued to fly after the pilot evacuated, neither the US Marine Corps nor Joint Base Charleston immediately responded.
The unusual circumstance would resemble an occurrence involving a pilotless Soviet MiG-23 during the Cold War if the F-35 was still flying in a supposedly “zombie state” after its pilot ejected.
A Soviet MiG-23 fighter plane crashed into a man’s home near the western city of Kortrijk in July 1989, killing the occupant, and sparking outrage throughout Belgium, according to a story from The New York Times at the time. The MiG-23 pilot reportedly made an emergency landing while above Poland after encountering some sort of “malfunction.”
But before it ultimately went down, the MiG-23 managed to fly for some 560 kilometers on autopilot, passing effortlessly over East and West Germany and the Netherlands. At the time, the foreign minister of Belgium noted that NATO radar had detected the plane more than an hour before it crashed, but the Soviet Union made no comment in response to queries about the plane’s weaponry.
The F-35 is a fifth-generation fighter jet that is regarded as being extremely sophisticated and is renowned for its stealth and advanced capabilities. The aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin, is pricey. The 60-year effort to produce and sustain the planes is predicted to cost more than $1 trillion, making it the most expensive weapons program in US history. One F-35B is estimated to cost roughly $90 million.