Jokes are being made about the “stealth capabilities” of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II after the United States military announced it was unable to find one of the aircraft that went missing “somewhere” over South Carolina on Sunday afternoon after the pilot was forced to eject due to a mishap with the aircraft. Joint Base Charleston confirmed that the fifth-generation stealth fighter was from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, and was conducting a routine training flight when the mishap occurred.
A second aircraft was able to return to the base without incident.
Though the pilot was able to safely eject and was taken to a local medical center in stable condition, the location of the F-35B—the short/vertical takeoff and landing (SVTOL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter—remains unknown as of Monday morning.
Social Media Reactions—Jokes and Wild Theories
Not surprisingly there was much mockery on social media with memes that saw the jet on the side of milk cartons and missing posters, while others even asked “Dude, Where is My F-35.”
While those posts weren’t taken seriously, others begin to speculate that the jet had flown to Cuba with Chinese assistance. That quickly became the center of a wild conspiracy theory, and some didn’t apparently think it to be a joke, even as it makes no sense.
“If it had gotten all the way to Cuba it would have been high enough to be picked up on the radar,” explained Dr. Matthew J. Schmidt, associate professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven.
The aircraft is not actually invisible to radar, but rather is noted for its small radar signature. The current theory from actual aviation experts is that the aircraft crashed under foliage or is now underwater in one of the lakes in the region.
“The reason it’s hard to find is that it likely went down, under the radar, not up. Also, this is CONUS, the whole tracking system is not especially designed to monitor air mishaps,” added Schmidt. “The F-35 is a stealth fighter and will not be easily picked up in a high-speed fall by civilian radar.”
The Beginning Of A Conspiracy Theory
Even as a level of logic is presented to debunk these claims, others will immediately see a vast conspiracy, and social media allows the wildest theories to find an audience.
“Conspiracy theories are very interesting. While they seem like information deficits, they actually have more to do with identity and emotion than they do with information,” said Dr. Clifford Lampe, professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
“They tend to come about when people feel high levels of anxiety, or when they have a pervasive anger,” Lampe continued. “Conspiracy theories often help reduce those feelings of anxiety by providing certainty or make anger feel more justified because you find other people who are also angry. Social media definitely didn’t create the first conspiracy theories, some of which have been around for hundreds of years. But social media does make it much easier to spread those theories quickly.”
It was just a week ago that old—and debunked—theories about 9/11 surfaced once again, notably around Building 7 of the World Trade Center. Despite countless articles, documentaries and books that explain why that building collapsed 22 years ago, people will still draw their own conclusions.
Thus even when the wreck of this F-35 is found, some are likely to suggest the Pentagon is covering up the incident, just as they will claim it did with 9/11. That is simply par for the course for such a conspiracy.
“The hard part of this is that new or better information won’t refute the conspiracy thinking,” said Lampe. “Belief persistence makes people resistant to changing their minds in the light of new information. The backfire effect is a well-studied phenomenon where a person presented with evidence that their position is wrong actually becomes more convinced rather than less in their belief.”
In other words, welcome to the latest conspiracy—even as the logic suggests it is impossible that the aircraft could have flown to a secret Chinese airbase outside of Havana that was built after the Chinese spy balloon crossed the USA in February!
“There is no way that an F-35 stealth fighter flew to Cuba. I don’t know where people come up with these things but there is no truth to that rumor,” said Harry Kazianis, president of The Rogue States Project and a senior editor for 19FortyFive. “We will find that downed F-35 fighter soon. In the mean time, I am sure someone is going to say next Elon Musk flew it to Mars!”