ANALYSIS by John “Wolf” Wagner
I cannot imagine another time where we publicly acknowledged we could not find or needed public help
locating a critical military asset.
The Marine Corps is currently, if you can believe it, looking for a ‘missing’ F-35B after a pilot
ejected over South Carolina.
How is it that a pilotless F-35B is MISSING? How is it they haven’t found a smoking hulk of
wreckage and impact crater somewhere? This is a situation that we’ve not encountered before,
and now we have questions. Lots of questions.
In a previous life, I worked at the control center at USNORTHCOM in Colorado Springs, CO.
There, I participated in recovery missions where aircraft had, in effect, pilot-less aircraft where
the cabin lost oxygen/pressurization and was not being controlled. These aircraft would continue
flying along a course heading, and eventually come down either due to atmospheric situations or
fuel depletion. In this current F-35 case, according to military sources the pilot had ejected
due to some yet-unknown situation and the aircraft continued to fly on. But why?
What situation would present itself where the pilot of a multi-million-dollar combat aircraft
would eject before knowing it was going to go down? How could he let it fly on, without
regard to where it may end up?
According to latest info at time of writing, the plane had flown on in a south-southwest direction, which would not have put it out to sea (the aircraft had been in the vicinity of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort north of Hilton Head).
While it is likely it would have headed out to sea, it would have to have flown on its own for quite a distance.
According to other sources, the pilot had placed the aircraft in ‘autopilot mode’ just before
ejecting; whether this was intentional, or the eject happened unintentionally, needs to be
revealed. That could be a catastrophic maintenance issue on the airframe.
My guess at this time is that the plane has indeed crashed into the ocean off of South Carolina;
without having any other telltale impacts in the area around Savannah, GA this makes it a likely
But we need to again address what situation would put the pilot in an eject scenario without
crashing the aircraft? Thankfully, news reports state the pilot is okay and was successfully
recovered. This brings to mind Tom Cruise’s scene in Top Gun: Maverick where he ejects out of
a top-secret Mach-10 plane and shows up minus his aircraft in the beginning of the movie. I see
something humorously similar here.
Realistically, what is just as unusual is Joint Base Charleston’s PAO reaction- putting out an
advisory asking for the public’s help in trying to find the aircraft. As a life-long PAO, I cannot
imagine another time where we publicly acknowledged we could not find or needed public help
locating a critical military asset. The Marine Corps or USAF didn’t have enough of the assets up
looking for it? That anyone noticing a large, burning wreckage wouldn’t be calling 911 or Fox
News saying ‘we just found a wrecked jet!’?
Let’s hope we get a lot more answers on this before we lose another one.
John “Wolf” Wagner is a former White House SES appointee to several agencies in the Trump administration; he’s a retired Army officer and Iraq War veteran. He served a combined 35 years in the military, including USCENTCOM and USNORTHCOM assignments.