Sarah A. Hoyt has raised the possibility that the missing F-35 has been “stolen.” Rather, it has been given by corrupt figures in the military and government to China. That the incident and ejection have been faked to cover up that action.
I will state that such is a possibility. I do not, however, see it as a probability at this time. Before I get into some of that, let me preface with a few remarks and conditions. My own ejection training is a decade or two out of date, and was primarily focused on two-seat fighters. I got the training while getting my physiological training certificate at Little Rock. When it comes to ejection systems, I am most familiar with the ACESII system which used to be quite the thing.
Some quick notes. First, ejection is NOT fun as you are subjected to a large number of G’s and potentially some other delights. Common injuries were neck and back, though broken limbs (arms and legs) were not uncommon on some previous systems as if you didn’t have them in the right spot/position, they not only caught force they could also catch parts of the plane as you rapidly left it. Ouch.
Second, another common accident was having the person ejecting forget to transfer their oxygen hose from the main panel to the seat bottle. The little green apple of the seat bottle is your friend. There is a reason that used to be practiced during both physiological and ejection training. If you don’t remember to do that, as you leave the plane the mask is rather violently ripped from your face and helmet, and often did bad things to your neck and sometimes to your face and neck. Failing to switch fell under the category of “Very Bad Thing” as a result.
Third, the activation of an ejection seat usually triggers a beacon to help guide SAR to the downed pilot. This is separate from any Emergency Locator Beacon (ELB) on the plane itself. As an FYI, on civilian planes it is possible to manually activate the ELB, my memory is fuzzy (stupid lightning) on military craft. Seem to recall that it depended on the aircraft. Yes, military craft do tend to have such to aid in recovery (or destruction at need).
Fourth, no matter the system, the canopy goes bye bye in the process. In a normal ejection per my training, a charge blew the canopy back and away so you didn’t end up like Goose in Top Gun. Also, if your seat failed when you pulled the cord, the alternative was to raise the canopy and let the slipstream rip it off. As it did so, a lanyard was yanked and the secondary system (hopefully) would succeed where the primary failed. Today, you have that, canopies that allegedly fragment, and others — like the F-35 — that split in two so you can get safely launched. See here, here, and here for more info on the F-35 system.
The system in the F-35 works at ground level, which is quite an improvement as earlier system really needed you at 200 feet or higher to work properly. There are some other wrinkles that are fascinating including that it can apparently act automatically without pilot input.
BTW, putting the plane on autopilot when departing mid-flight goes back to WWII. You wanted/needed a steady platform as there were no ejection seats, and if the plane wasn’t under control of the auotpilot or a courageous pilot, it tended to do maneuvers that prevented the crew from leaving. Training was (is?) to do everything you can to hold it steady or to have the plane hold things steady. It makes your departure much smoother and helps prevent any number of injuries. It is interesting to note that some aircraft just keep plugging along after the pilot has left, while others tend to go immediately out of control.
UPDATE: See this comment for one such incident in the late 80s.
In this case, the pilot was apparently seen coming down under canopy, more details here. Side note, glad to see AvLeak is still around. Could it have been faked, such as pushing him in a seat out the back of a transport? Sure. But, no such plane appears to have been nearby at the time. Two, if there were, guarantee a number of the Aviation OSINT folk would have been talking about it by now. Expect to see some serious digging by these fine folks soon.
For all it is highly automated, and features MAGIC CARPET and other delights, it’s really not capable of automated landing. It can get darned close I’m told, but not there. FYI, the old MLS (such as on the Shuttle and other craft) never did truly work as advertised I’m told. We are getting closer, but not there yet. So, the idea of programming the plane to keep flying, go full stealth, and land at an undisclosed location without human intervention is rather unlikely.
Which brings us to the other fly in the ointment. From a purely intel/black ops standpoint, using this type of event to steal one is not very likely. In fact, I can think of a couple of dozen reasons not to do it this way. KISS rules, and I’m not talking the band. Doing it this way violates KISS in so many ways I can’t count them all. In short, secrets keep the fewer are involved. When you court the public, flight trackers, a wingman, and a host of others involved, you are NOT keeping it simple in the ways that count.
Frankly, if I were to want to do a public disappearance, it would be one plane, over water. The fewer who know what is going on, the better. Actually, the easiest way to get one and ship it to the enemy would be via paperwork and that is frighteningly easy to do. No fuss, no muss, no real paper trail, and it would only need a very small number of people to make it happen. That’s also about as far as I’m going to go on that too.
Now, I admit I’m more than a little curious why the transponder quit working and why no ELB (yet). In defense of the transponder, having a rocket motor go off right in front of you can be a bit disconcerting. If the plane went down in water, the ELB is going to be problematic to detect if it works.
Right now, I’m leaning towards the plane having remained in auto pilot and it did some form of soft landing, most likely in water. If it had done a soft landing on land, odds are we should have had some sign of it but that is not guaranteed. Until we have more data, all we can do is speculate. Again, I’m leaning towards the F-35 doing a modern version of a WWII ghost plane, but until we have hard data…
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