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.
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.