With no landing gear due to a malfunction, an Air Force pilot nailed a “belly-flop” landing at Aviano Air Base, Italy, skidding an F-16 jet on its undercarriage perfectly for several hundred feet before it came to a halt.
Two videos of the landing filmed by bystanders made their way to the Air Force/amn/nco/snco Facebook group. Aviano officials confirmed to Coffee or Die Magazine that the videos were authentic, although unofficial.
The photographers both had perfect views of the landing, one from an aircraft parking ramp directly adjacent to the runway and the other from near the end of the runway, as the compact, multi-role fighter jet made an emergency landing on Wednesday, March 2. The plane lands gently at one end of the runway, then slides perhaps a quarter-mile, leaving a small trail of smoke behind as it skids.
The first video, directly adjacent to the slide, with a clear view of the F-16’s path and stopping point:
Pivotally, the pilot keeps the plane’s wings level for the entire skid.
A major danger of a wheels-up landing is that if the aircraft rolls to the left or right even slightly during the violent skid, a wingtip could catch on the ground, launching the plane into an uncontrollable tumble or spin.
As the jet slides the entire length of the Aviano runway, the pilot appears to make a few adjustments to keep the plane straight, including a small “hop” toward the end of the skid.
The second video, from behind, with a clear view of the F-16’s touchdown and smoke trailing behind it as it slides.
The jet from the 31st Fighter Wing experienced an in-flight emergency, Maj. Kaylee Ausbun, a spokesperson for the unit, told Coffee or Die Magazine, which prevented the wheels from being lowered.
Ausbun said the runway was reopened the next morning for regular operations. The pilot was uninjured.
Wheels-up landings are rare but not unheard of, and pilots rehearse for them frequently, though they are not actively practiced for obvious reasons. Accident statistics indicate that “over 45% of all general aviation accidents occur during the approach and landing phases of a flight,” according to the Airplane Flying Handbook. The pneumatic tires, shock-absorbing landing gear, and other mechanisms are meant to cushion the impact of the aircraft — in this case, one weighing approximately 20,000 pounds — “and to increase the time in which the airplane’s vertical descent is stopped.”
“The load imposed at the instant of touchdown may easily be three or four times the actual weight of the airplane depending on the severity of contact.”
Aviano is an Italian air base that has long hosted US forces, including the 31st Fighter Wing, which flies F-16s. It has served as a major transportation hub for troops transiting Europe to other locations. The base is located in northeastern Italy at the foot of the Southern Carnic Alps and about an hour’s drive from Venice.
The 31st Fighter Wing maintains several flying units, including two F-16 fighter squadrons — the 555th Fighter Squadron and the 510th Fighter Squadron. The base also hosts the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons. The 56th RQS flies HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, and the 57th is a pararescue training and operations team.
Ausbun said, “Aviano Air Base’s emergency response teams responded and secured the area. All other base operations returned to normal.”
A safety investigation board is currently investigating the incident.