The aircraft was launching for a patrol mission over Eastern Europe when it lost a wheel and was forced to perform a belly landing.
As we have already reported, on Mar. 2, 2022, an F-16CM belonging to the 555th Fighter Squadron of the 31st Fighter Wing, based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, carried out a belly landing after experiencing a landing gear issue: the mishap Viper (as the Fighting Falcon is nicknamed within the pilot community) armed with Live missiles lost the left wheel of the main landing gear on take off.
The aircraft was forced to cancel its mission and later perform a successful, emergency gear-up landing at Aviano, that was caught on camera. However, before opting for the belly landing (that was deemed safer than attempting a landing with a missing wheel, that could cause the aircraft to veer off runway something you always want to avoid with an jet carrying live weapons), the aircraft was observed, with the gear and tailhook down, perform some passes over the base in northeastern Italy.
It was during one of those passes that a photographer took some photos of the aircraft, that show the crippled F-16 a few minutes before the successful emergency landing.
“On Mar. 2, a friend and I were on a trip to Aviano Air Base,” told us Dutch photographer Jesse Van Den Broek in an email. “At around 1PM the Carabinieri [Italian Military Police] came to us and told us we had to leave Immediately. When we were walking to the car of a friend of mine, I noticed the aircraft with its hook down while doing a low approach. So I immediately took several shots before we had to drive away. The moment we drove to the other side of the runway they closed down the entire road for all traffic. When we were near the other end of the runway we witnessed another low approach. After this one we left because we weren’t sure what the pilot wanted to do.”
Although Jesse didn’t see the aircraft on its final approach for the belly landing, he managed to take some shots of the F-16. “The quality of the pictures is pretty bad. But we were far away and in a hurry”, Jesse explain. Anyway, while not up to his usual standards (you can have a look at his shots on Instagram here), the photos are good enough to confirm that the airframe involved in the mishap was the serial #89-2035, the flagship of the 555th FS, in the standard enhanced Air Policing configuration: with Live AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, AN/ALQ-131 ECM pod and Sniper ATP (Advanced Targeting Pod), along with two fuel tanks.