UPDATE: Sept. 18, 2023, 6:50 p.m. ET: On Monday night, the Joint Base Charleston released a statement on X, formerly Twitter, stating: “Personnel from Joint Base Charleston and @MCASBeaufortSC, in close coordination with local authorities, have located a debris field in Williamsburg County. The debris was discovered two hours northeast of JB Charleston. We would like to thank all of our mission partners, as well as local, county, and state authorities, for their dedication and support throughout the search and as we transition to the recovery phase.”
The US military is asking you to help them find their very expensive, very missing jet. According to Joint Base Charleston’s public statement posted on September 17 to Facebook, officials are still searching for an F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jet after a “mishap” resulted in its pilot safely ejecting somewhere near South Carolina’s Lake Moutrie. Talking with The Washington Post, Joint Base Charleston spokesperson Jeremy Huggins explained the jet’s transponder, usually employed to find aircraft in such situations, has malfunctioned “for some reason that we haven’t yet determined… that’s why we put out the public request for help.”
[Related: Air Force declares F-35 ready for combat.]
Although it is certainly possible one of the military’s most expensive and high tech jets has crashed, Huggins confirmed to NBC News that the pilot (who is in “stable condition”) left their plane in autopilot mode before ejecting—meaning it could actually still be airborne.
“How in the hell do you lose an F-35?” Rep. Nancy Mace posted to X, formerly Twitter Sunday night.
Although the missing plane’s exact cost isn’t confirmed, estimates put a single F-35B Lightning’s worth at somewhere around $78 to $81 million. (The F-35 also comes in an A variant for the Air Force and a C variant for the Navy.) The F-35B is first-and-foremost a stealth craft, featuring different “coatings and designs” that make it much more difficult to detect than standard planes,” according to Huggins. An F-35B can also take off and land vertically, thus requiring much shorter runways than those aboard aircraft carriers. According to Lockheed-Martin’s official description, an F-35B equipped with a full weapons load capacity of 15,000 lb clocks in at Mach 1.6 (around 1,200 mph) while also pulling upwards of 7 G’s during flight. It is currently used within the US Marine Corps, as well as the UK and Italian Air Forces.
The USMC finally declared the F-35B “operational” in 2015 after a decades’ long funding and development saga. At the time, a squadron of 10 jets were estimated to cost somewhere between $1.04 billion and $1.34 billion.
“The public is asked to cooperate with military and civilian authorities as the effort continues,” Joint Base Charleston’s Facebook post explains, adding that any information that could help them be relayed to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Public Affairs Office at 252-466-3827.