A US Air Force F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter jet went missing on Monday, September 18, 2023, during a routine training mission over the Atlantic Ocean. The pilot, whose name has not been released, was also reported missing and presumed dead. The jet was assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
The jet disappeared from radar at around 8:30 p.m. local time, about 50 miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A search and rescue operation was launched by the US Coast Guard, the US Navy, and other agencies, but was hampered by bad weather and rough seas.
On Tuesday, September 19, 2023, some debris from the jet was reportedly found by a fishing boat near the site of the disappearance. The debris included parts of the jet’s tail section and cockpit canopy. The Coast Guard confirmed that the debris matched the serial number of the missing F-35.
What is the F-35?
The F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet that is designed to perform multiple roles, such as air superiority, ground attack, and electronic warfare. It is considered to be one of the most advanced and expensive military aircraft in the world, costing about $100 million per unit.
The F-35 has three variants: the F-35A for conventional takeoff and landing, the F-35B for short takeoff and vertical landing, and the F-35C for carrier-based operations. The US Air Force operates the F-35A variant, which has a top speed of Mach 1.6 (about 1,200 mph) and a range of 1,200 miles.
The F-35 is equipped with a single Pratt & Whitney F135 engine that produces 43,000 pounds of thrust. It also has an internal weapons bay that can carry up to four air-to-air missiles or two air-to-ground bombs. The jet also has six external hardpoints that can carry additional weapons or fuel tanks.
The F-35 features a low-observable (stealth) design that reduces its radar cross-section and infrared signature. It also has an advanced sensor suite that provides a 360-degree situational awareness to the pilot. The jet also has a helmet-mounted display that projects vital information onto the pilot’s visor.
What are the implications?
The disappearance of the F-35 is a major loss for the US Air Force and a blow to the F-35 program, which has been plagued by delays, cost overruns, technical glitches, and safety issues. The program has cost more than $1.6 trillion so far and is expected to cost another $1 trillion over its lifetime.
The incident also raises questions about the reliability and survivability of the F-35 in combat situations. The jet has not seen any action in any war zone yet, but it is expected to play a key role in countering potential threats from countries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
The cause of the disappearance is still unknown and under investigation. Some possible scenarios include mechanical failure, human error, weather interference, or enemy action. The US Air Force has not ruled out any possibility and has vowed to find out what happened to the jet and the pilot.