WASHINGTON — The crash of an F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in South Carolina over the weekend has raised numerous questions about what prompted the pilot to eject and how the $100 million warplane was able to keep flying pilotless for 60 miles (100 kilometers) before crashing.
Here's what is known about the modern warplane and its latest incident:
‘Forced to eject'
A U.S. Marine Corps pilot was flying a single-seat F-35B fighter jet on Sunday when the pilot experienced a malfunction and was “forced to eject,” a Marine Corps official who was not authorized to speak publicly said on condition of anonymity. The aircraft was only at an altitude of about 1,000 feet (300 meters) and only about a mile (less than 2 kilometers) north of Charleston International Airport, in a populated area that led the pilot to parachute into a residential backyard.
The Marine Corps' variant of the F-35 is different from the Air Force and Navy versions in that it can take off and land like a helicopter — which allows it to operate on amphibious assault ships. But it's also different in that it's the only one of the three variants that has an auto-eject function on its ejection seat, according to seat manufacturer Martin-Baker. That has raised questions as to whether the malfunction the pilot experienced was the seat itself.
On the Air Force and Navy versions, “the pilot has to initiate the ejection,” said Dan Grazier, a…