US Marines have lost one their F-35s; now asking for help

In a strange turn of events, the United States Marines have managed to lose one of their F-35B "Lightning IIs" somewhere north of Joint Base Charleston.
Christopher McFadden
We don't know where it is is yet.


The United States Marine Corps has officially asked for public help finding one of its lost F-35B "Lightning II" stealth fighters, The Drive reports. The aircraft took off from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort as scheduled, but during its flight, the pilot was forced to eject at around 2 p.m. yesterday (17th September 2023), leaving the aircraft unpiloted. Set on autopilot and apparently airworthy, the F-35B is thought to have flown unguided until its fuel reserves likely expired and crashed.

Zombie F-35B

After ejecting safely, the pilot landed in a Charleston neighborhood and is reportedly in stable condition. However, the whereabouts of the aircraft are unknown. The F-35B was part of a two-ship flight, with the other plane landing safely at MCAS Beaufort. The reason for the pilot's ejection from the aircraft and the state of the F-35B at the time are also unknown.

Senior Master Sergeant Heather Stanton from Joint Base Charleston has stated that the aircraft search is underway in the Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion areas, based on Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) flight data. However, the Department of Defense (DoD) has revealed that the F-35B was put on autopilot before the ejection.

Although it may seem strange, there have been cases of fighter aircraft operating in a "zombie state" for extended periods. Some have even landed safely on the ground after the pilot has ejected. One well-known example is the "Cornfield Bomber," an F-106 that landed intact on its belly in 1970 after the pilot had left the cockpit. A Soviet MiG-23 flew from Poland to Belgium unmanned after the pilot ejected shortly after takeoff in 1988.

During Navy carrier operations, there have been incidents where aircrew have had to eject from their jet due to a stall caused by a "cold cat shot" or engine issues. This happened when the aircraft was heavily loaded at the start of a mission. The weight of the crew, seats, and canopy, along with the shift in the center of gravity, has enabled the aircraft to recover and avoid a crash with no one left on board.

Regarding this incident, even the F-35B with a shorter range can cover a considerable distance. If on autopilot, it could have flown hundreds of miles before crashing, depending on its fuel level. A similar situation occurred last June (2022) with the non-responsive Citation Bizjet, but the crew and passengers remained on board that damaged aircraft.

It is believed that it is possible the F-35 crashed in a remote location since there were no reports of a crash site to date. If it ran out of fuel, it might not have caused a big fire or loud crash, making it harder to spot. It might even be more difficult to find if it crashed in the Atlantic (if it made it that far).

Double-edged sword

Moreover, the jet's configuration and operability of its avionics are concerning. F-35s wear radar reflectors and missile rails for AIM-9Xs during transit and training missions. However, if the aircraft were in complete stealth mode and had avionics problems, for this reason, it would been challenging to track its exact location while in the air. The US Marine Corps has also requested the public to offer any information about the missing F-35B.

This is a developing situation, and IE will keep you informed if any further developments occur in the future.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board