The Convair F-106 Delta Dart “Cornfield Bomber” suffered little damage when it landed in a farmer’s field in Montana after its pilot ejected.
US Air Force/National Museum of the United States Air Force
An F-35 that went missing in South Carolina may have flown on autopilot for a time after its pilot ejected, though it’s still unclear.
There have been other similarly strange incidents.
In 1970, an aircraft nicknamed the “Cornfield Bomber” pulled off a surprising unmanned landing with only minor damage after it’s pilot bailed out.
It’s possible that a F-35 stealth fighter that went missing over South Carolina flew on its own for a time after its piloted ejected. A little over fifty years ago, the US military encountered a similarly bizarre situation with a plane that landed itself and was later nicknamed the “Cornfield Bomber.”
On Sunday afternoon, Joint Base Charleston posted on Facebook reporting a “mishap involving an F-35B Lightning II jet” and the pilot had to eject. The base didn’t provide further information on the incident or what caused the ejection, but it did ask for the public’s help in locating the jet.
Officials haven’t confirmed or denied whether the jet crashed, but Joint Base Charleston spokesperson Jeremy Huggins told NBC News the jet was left in autopilot mode when the pilot ejected. This means it could’ve remained airborne for some time, although authorities were certain the F-35 was down as of midday Monday.
The US Marine Corps and Joint Base Charleston didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on these details.
While it’s currently unclear what happened to the missing jet, it wouldn’t be the first time a plane has carried on without its pilot. This was seen in the curious 1989 case of a Soviet MiG-23 that flew over 500 miles and crashed in NATO territory after its pilot ejected and a separate 50-year-old incident involving a US interceptor fighter that landed on its own in a farmer’s field in Montana after the pilot hopped out.
On February 2, 1970, pilot Maj. Gary Foust ejected from a Convair F-106 Delta Dart interceptor aircraft during a training exercise when the jet had entered a flat spin. “It remained in that spin as I was going through the maneuvers, the emergency procedures, to recover,” Foust said in a National Museum of the US Air Force video in October 2013, “it did not recover.”
After Foust ejected, the aircraft nose-dived before stabilizing, then remained airborne for a time, while Foust drifted around 8,000 feet above the ground in his parachute.
But instead of crashing and leaving a broken plane amid scattered debris and wreckage, the F-106 made an apparently graceful landing in a snowy farmer’s field in Montana. “It was about six inches of snow on the ground,” Foust said, adding that it had “probably skidded some couple hundred yards or more and came to rest.”
Shockingly, the F-106 suffered little damage during its belly landing beyond some underside skinning. “I was surprised that that was the case,” Foust said. “I assumed it crashed but the fact that it landed by itself was obviously a shock to everyone.”
The unusual event earned his aircraft its “Cornfield Bomber” nickname, and shortly after it was taken to McClellan Air Force Base for repairs, it returned to service. Since August 1986, it has been on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force.