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Understanding the Recent F-35B Marine Corps Crash, Residential Ejection, and Associated Concerns

by Michael Nguyen
9 comments
F-35B Marine Corps Crash

Over the past weekend, an F-35B Joint Strike Fighter operated by the U.S. Marine Corps experienced a crash in South Carolina, sparking various inquiries concerning the cause of the pilot’s ejection and the subsequent pilotless flight of the $100 million military aircraft for approximately 60 miles (around 100 kilometers) before its ultimate crash.

Circumstances Leading to the Ejection

An unidentified Marine Corps official, not authorized to speak publicly, revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps pilot confronted a malfunction while piloting the single-seat F-35B fighter jet last Sunday. Forced to eject from the plane, the pilot did so at an altitude of merely 1,000 feet (approximately 300 meters), just a mile (or less than two kilometers) north of Charleston International Airport. The ejection led the pilot to parachute into a residential backyard, given the populated nature of the area.

The F-35B, a variant of the F-35 specifically designed for the Marine Corps, is unique in its capacity to vertically take off and land, akin to a helicopter. This enables its deployment on amphibious assault ships. Of note, it is the only variant among the three—Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps—to feature an automatic ejection function on its ejection seat, according to Martin-Baker, the seat’s manufacturer. This particular function has led to questions regarding whether the seat’s auto-ejection mechanism was the culprit behind the malfunction.

Precedent and Unanswered Questions

Dan Grazier, a former Marine Corps captain and currently a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, pointed out that while the Navy and Air Force versions require the pilot to manually initiate the ejection, the auto-eject feature in the Marine Corps’ F-35B is designed to offer enhanced safety during the hover mode of the aircraft. Grazier posed questions about the role of this unique feature in the recent incident.

Notably, a similar F-35B crash occurred last December at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas. In July 2022, the Air Force temporarily grounded its F-35 fleet due to concerns related to ejection seats. The ejection seats across all F-35 variants underwent inspections and continue to be examined as part of routine maintenance, as stated by the F-35 Joint Program Office.

Concerns Over the Aircraft’s Pilotless Flight

Additionally, questions arise about how the aircraft managed to continue its flight for 60 miles before eventually crashing near Indiantown, South Carolina. Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps Reserves colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Security, questioned the rationale behind the pilot’s decision to eject, particularly considering the aircraft’s sustained flight.

The aircraft was found a day after an extensive search, with the debris ultimately located by a law enforcement helicopter in South Carolina. Additional details about the time taken to locate the jet were not disclosed due to an ongoing investigation. Jeremy Huggins, a spokesperson at Joint Base Charleston, confirmed that the aircraft was operating in autopilot mode at the time of the pilot’s ejection.

The F-35 Program: Present and Future

Produced by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter is considered the most sophisticated fighter jet in the U.S. inventory. With 972 units already constructed and plans to manufacture more than 3,500 units globally, the Department of Defense envisages it as the primary fighter jet for both the United States and its allied nations.

Lockheed Martin has already delivered 190 of the F-35B variants to the Marine Corps, each costing about $100 million. Despite its crucial role in future airpower strategy, the F-35 program has been beleaguered by significant cost overruns and delays, with its total estimated cost now exceeding $1.7 trillion. Although a substantial number of aircraft have been completed, plans are already underway to replace the engines in the F-35.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about F-35B Marine Corps Crash

What prompted the pilot to eject from the F-35B during the recent incident in South Carolina?

The pilot was forced to eject due to a malfunction while flying the aircraft. The ejection took place at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet, just about a mile north of Charleston International Airport.

How is the Marine Corps’ F-35B variant different from those of the Air Force and the Navy?

The Marine Corps’ F-35B variant is unique in its ability to take off and land vertically, similar to a helicopter. Additionally, it is the only variant among the three that features an automatic ejection function on its ejection seat.

Have there been other incidents involving the F-35B?

Yes, a similar F-35B crash occurred last December at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas. Additionally, the Air Force temporarily grounded its F-35 fleet in July 2022 due to concerns related to ejection seats.

How did the F-35B continue to fly after the pilot’s ejection?

The aircraft was in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected and managed to continue flying for approximately 60 miles before crashing near Indiantown, South Carolina.

How long did it take to locate the crashed aircraft?

The search for the aircraft lasted more than a day, and the debris was ultimately located by a South Carolina law enforcement helicopter.

What is the current status of the F-35 program?

The F-35, produced by Lockheed Martin, is considered the most advanced fighter jet in the U.S. arsenal. Despite plans for extensive production and its envisioned role as the primary fighter jet for both the U.S. and its allies, the program has faced significant cost overruns and delays.

What are the financial implications of the F-35 program?

The F-35 program’s estimated total cost now exceeds $1.7 trillion. Each F-35B variant costs about $100 million, and 190 of these have been delivered to the Marine Corps.

Are there ongoing investigations into the safety of the F-35 aircraft?

Yes, the F-35 Joint Program Office stated that ejection seats across all F-35 variants continue to be inspected as part of routine maintenance, especially following incidents and concerns related to ejection mechanisms.

More about F-35B Marine Corps Crash

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Overview
  • U.S. Marine Corps Aircraft Specifications
  • Project on Government Oversight Defense Policy Analysis
  • Center for Strategic and International Security Publications
  • Lockheed Martin F-35 Production Updates
  • Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth Incident Report
  • Air Force F-35 Grounding News Release
  • Charleston International Airport Safety Protocols
  • F-35 Ejection Seat Manufacturer Martin-Baker
  • South Carolina Law Enforcement Aviation Unit

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9 comments

JohnDoe123 September 20, 2023 - 1:21 am

Whoa, a $100 million plane crashin like that? What are they doing with our tax dollars anyway?

Reply
GlobalWatcher September 20, 2023 - 2:09 am

F-35 is not just a US issue. Many allied countries are invested in this. Can’t afford to have these kinda mistakes.

Reply
AviationExpert September 20, 2023 - 5:35 am

seriously questions about the auto-eject function on Marine Corps F-35s need to be answered asap. this is safety we’re talking bout.

Reply
TechGeek September 20, 2023 - 10:36 am

autopilot mode or not, it’s kinda impressive the plane kept flying for 60 miles without a pilot. But, yeah, that doesn’t make up for the other issues obv.

Reply
ConcernedCitizen September 20, 2023 - 3:34 pm

I can’t even imagine a fighter jet falling into my backyard. Scary stuff… the pilot was lucky but what if it crashed in the populated area?

Reply
JanePublic September 20, 2023 - 3:51 pm

How long did it take to find the jet? More than a day? that’s a serious lapse in search and rescue ops.

Reply
PolicyWonk September 20, 2023 - 4:09 pm

The F-35 program’s cost overruns are absurd. $1.7 trillion could fund so many other essential programs, its ridiculous!

Reply
FiscalHawk September 20, 2023 - 5:46 pm

another expensive mishap for a program already bleeding money. Time to rethink our defense spending?

Reply
MilitaryInsider September 20, 2023 - 9:05 pm

Look, these incidents aren’t uncommon in the military aviation world. rigorous investigation is underway. hold your judgment.

Reply

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