The F-35′s stealth is touted as one of the fighter jet’s marquee features and is usually beneficial for the U.S. military. That is, until it loses one of the planes.
An advanced F-35B Lightning II jet went down somewhere near Joint Base Charleston on Sunday afternoon, and the pilot ejected safely and was in stable condition, the base said. But the problem is that responders aren’t sure where the plane ended up.
The jet’s transponder, which usually helps locate the aircraft, was not working “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined,” said Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston. “So that’s why we put out the public request for help.”
In an appeal posted to social media, Joint Base Charleston asked the public to contact the base if anyone had information about the aircraft’s whereabouts following the “mishap” on Sunday.
Although it is a Marine Corps jet, the Air Force is assisting in the response, because the F-35 went down near its base. The Federal Aviation Administration is also involved in the response. Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-35, said in a statement, “We are aware of the mishap involving an F-35B from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and are thankful the pilot ejected safely. We are supporting the government’s investigation.”
The Air Force considers any incident that “results in death, injury, illness or property damage” to be a mishap, which necessitates an investigation. The extent of the damage to the plane that went down Sunday was not clear. When an F-35 crashed for the first time in 2018, it was initially classified as a “Class A” mishap, which involves $2 million or more in damage, the complete destruction of the plane, or the fatality or permanent total disability of the crew.
F-35s are among the world’s most advanced fighter jets, known for their sharp, aerodynamic body and features that shield them from detection.
“The aircraft is stealth, so it has different coatings and different designs that make it more difficult than a normal aircraft to detect,” Huggins said. He added in a text message late Sunday that teams were still searching for the plane. He declined to specify the nature of the exercise that the pilot was involved in at the time of the incident. The matter is under investigation, he said.
Based on the jet’s last known location, Huggins said, the search is being concentrated near Lake Moultrie, a murky body of water that is 75 feet deep at its deepest point and 14 miles across at its widest.
The jets are also among the world’s most expensive. Though they have been billed as critical “next-generation” aircraft for the United States and a handful of other nations involved in their creation, U.S. lawmakers have in recent years criticized what they say are ballooning costs associated with the F-35. It was unclear how much the jet that went down Sunday was worth.