U.S. F-16 Launching For Patrol Over Eastern Europe Loses Wheel. Carries Out Successful Gear Up Landing.

F-16 belly landing
Video surfaced on social media of an F-16 performing a belly-landing at Aviano Air Base on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (Photo: screen shot via YouTube)

F-16 from USAF 31st Fighter Wing performed gear-up landing. It had launched to carry out an armed overwatch patrol as part of NATO’s enhanced Air Policing Mission.

Two videos shared to Facebook on the Air Force amn/nco/snco page show an F-16 Fighting Falcon performing an emergency gear-up belly landing at Aviano Air Base, in northeastern Italy, on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. No injuries were reported from the accident.

A news story about the incident by journalist Rachel S. Cohen that appeared in the Air Force Times on March 4, 2022, said that, “A U.S. Air Force pilot safely landed their F-16C Fighting Falcon jet in Italy after suffering an in-flight emergency on Wednesday afternoon, prompting buildings near the runway to lock down”.

Cohen went on to quote USAF spokesperson Natalie Stanley from an official email on Friday that said in part, “Aviano Air Base’s emergency response teams responded and secured the area. All other base operations have returned to normal.”

During the emergency, some portions of the base were placed on lock-down as a safety precaution. Generally speaking, when it deals with emergencies involving Vipers (as the F-16s are nicknamed within the fighter pilot community), one of the risks is the leakage of Hydrazine (H-70, 70% Hydrazine and 30% water). Hydrazine is a colorless liquid that feeds the electrical systems and the EPU (Emergency Power Unit) as part of a backup power system on the aircraft. When activated, the unit provides emergency power for the aircraft’s systems in the case of an electrical failure: in case of flame-out, emergency power generated by the EPU (fired up by Hydrazine) is designed to give pilots the time they need to land the aircraft safely. And, as explained in detail in a previous post, Hydrazine is a highly toxic and inflammable chemical that can be mistaken for water but smells more or less like ammonia. Depending on the duration of the exposure, H-70 vapors can be extremely dangerous for the human health.

File photo of a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron takes off during exercise Thracian Star 21 at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, July 12, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

The aircraft was from the 31st Fighter Wing, which is stationed at Aviano Air Base. There are two F-16 squadrons operating as part of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano, the well-known 555th “Triple Nickel” fighter squadron and the 510th fighter squadron “Buzzards”. No information about which squadron the accident F-16 was from has been released.

The Aviano Air Base F-16s are currently performing enhanced air policing missions in support of security operations in the region due to the war in Ukraine.

Thanks to one of our sources, we have been able to collect more details about the incident. The mishap aircraft was #89-2035, the flagship of the 555th FS, armed with Live missiles (clearly visible in photos taken by local spotters), lost a wheel of the main landing gear on take off for a patrol mission over Eastern Europe. The aircraft was forced to cancel its mission and perform a successful, emergency landing. It was first observed with the gear down (and missing left wheel of the MLG) and tailhook before it eventually opted for a gear-up landing.

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.