A Stealth F-35 Fighter Jet Went Down in S.C. Finding It Proved Difficult.

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
A F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is seen at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland January 20, 2012.

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.

A Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II jet went down near Joint Base Charleston, S.C., on Sunday afternoon, and the pilot ejected safely and was in stable condition, the base said. Officials found the missing jet’s debris field Monday evening in Williamsburg County, about two hours northeast of Joint Base Charleston.

But for about 24 hours, responders weren’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 Sunday, Joint Base Charleston asked the public to contact the base if anyone had information about the aircraft’s whereabouts.

“The mishap is currently under investigation, and we are unable to provide additional details to preserve the integrity of the investigative process,” the base said in a statement Monday. The Marine Corps will oversee the investigation “as they begin the recovery process,” officials said.

The U.S. Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration assisted 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 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 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 on Sunday that the search was 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. Williamsburg County, where the F-35B’s debris was found, is north of Lake Moultrie.

F-35s are among the world’s most expensive jets. 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.

The Washington Post