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‘Lost it in the Weather’: Audio Leaked From ‘Zombie’ F-35 Crash

F-35 aircraft fly over the U.K.’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, June 20, 2021. InternationalIndiaAfricaThe F-35 program is the most expensive weapons program the Pentagon has ever undertaken, with a lifetime program cost of $1.7 trillion and each plane costing between $80 and $140 million. Despite the expense, the jet is beset with problems, limiting its utility.As mystery continues to swirl surrounding the crash of a US Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter in South Carolina earlier this week, audio between dispatch and USMC aircraft describing the incident as it unfolded has been leaked on social media.Two clips have been circulating since shortly after the September 17 crash, when the debris site had not yet been determined. One is between another F-35B in the air, callsign Swede 12, and air traffic control (ATC) at Charleston International Airport, which shares its facilities with a USMC air base.The audio doesn’t reveal much, aside from the complete confusion on both land and air at the time the plane was lost. In the short clip, ATC can be heard trying to establish contact with Swede 11, which is apparently the callsign of the lost F-35. Unable to do so, ATC informs Swede 12, another F-35 in the air, of the failure to establish contact, and Swede 12 is unable to give exact details about Swede 11’s fate.

“As of now, we’ll consider your wingman NORDO,” the tower tells Swede 12, using the code for a plane without a functioning radio. Curiously, ATC suggests the missing fighter pilot might try to reestablish contact using a cellphone.

At no time during the recording does anyone mention the Swede 11 pilot ejecting or the plane crashing, reflecting previously learned details that the plane continued on autopilot in a kind of “zombie” mode after the pilot ejected.The other recording is between Charleston County EMS/Fire responders concerning the ejected pilot, who landed in someone’s backyard. The pilot was later hospitalized but released without having suffered major injuries.

Much of the radio chatter is typical, but a few important details can be garnered. At one point, the dispatcher says the pilot’s location is about «10 miles out from runway one-five,” a likely reference to Charleston International Airport’s runway 15. The dispatcher seems to be repeating information told to him, possibly by the pilot.»He’s unsure of where his plane crashed,» the dispatcher can be heard saying at one point. «Said he just lost it in the weather.»MilitaryNew F-35s Delayed Again to April 2024 Over Software Problems to Fire Weapons6 September, 23:06 GMTIt’s unclear if that means the pilot was forced to eject because of a weather-related incident, or simply didn’t see their plane crash because clouds or other weather obscured their view.In a notable item of humor, the EMTs apparently reported the pilot’s medical incident as a “fall.”On Tuesday, two days after the crash, aerial footage emerged of a stretch of forest with downed trees and disturbed earth, which was reported to be the crash site. However, there was no sign of any large parts of the aircraft.

Begun as the X-35 program in 2000, the first F-35 flew in 2006 and its three variants were introduced across the USMC, Air Force, and Navy between 2015 and 2019. The stealthy jet has also been exported to a number of US allies and partners, with the most recent buyers including the Czech Republic and South Korea. Some versions are cleared to carry nuclear bombs and are replacing legacy nuclear-capable aircraft in NATO, such as the Panavia Tornado.

It is by far the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history, with present estimates for the lifetime program cost exceeding $1.7 trillion. The aircraft is incredibly expensive, with Lockheed Martin struggling to keep its price below $80 million each.

Despite the cost, the F-35 has been beset by major problems from the outset, some of which are too expensive to fix and which limit its operational abilities, such as tail panels that overheat at supersonic speeds, a sensitivity to being struck by lightning, and an internal weapons bay that’s too small to carry some of its central weapons, like the Small Diameter Bomb II.

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