F-16 Belly Landing In Italy Shows Landing Gear Issues Persisting

An F-16 from Aviano Air Base, Italy, after landing without its left main landing gear during a March incident.
Credit: U.S. Air Force

A Lockheed Martin F-16CG from Aviano Air Base, Italy, had its main landing gear fail during a training flight on March 2, causing the jet to land on its belly and sustain more than $6 million in damage—the latest in a series of landing gear failures in the fleet.

A U.S. Air Force investigation into the incident released Aug. 2 found that the left outboard main landing gear bearing failed and fell off during takeoff. During the flight, the pilot received cockpit indications including an illumination of the anti-skid light, prompting him to cancel the training flight and call for his wingman to inspect the F-16 in the air.

For about 1 hr. and 45 min., with the aircraft in the air, security forces personnel on the ground inspected the airfield and found the separated wheel. On the recommendation of Aviano supervisors and a flight safety engineer, the pilot landed gear up. The landing damaged the F-16’s ventral fins and electronic countermeasures pod, causing $6.1 million in damage.

The investigators found that the failed bearing caused excessive heat and friction, softening and deforming the bearing cone on the wheel of the left main landing gear. As the wheel spun, it caused friction and eventually sheared a locking tab on the wheel nut, loosening it during takeoff, the Accident Investigation Board report says. 

Landing gear issues have troubled the F-16 fleet, with collapses dating back to 1997, according to a report on a similar incident in December 2019 at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. During that incident, the F-16’s right main landing gear’s downlock actuator failed, causing it to collapse. 

That investigation says that in March 2019, the Air Force issued an order to address landing gear issues. The order, titled “Replacement of Main Landing Gear Downlock Actuators and Support Brackets and Hardware on all USAF F-16C/D Blocks 40/42/50/52 Aircraft,” mandated the removal and replacement of main landing gear hardware with a deadline of March 2—the same date as the Aviano incident. The report did not say if the Aviano F-16 had its landing gear hardware replaced.

F-16s have continued to have other landing gear issues recently, including a Republic of China Air Force F-16V’s front landing gear collapsing on landing at Joint Base Pear Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, in June. The front landing gear on two F-16s from the South Dakota Air National Guard also collapsed while landing in two separate incidents within three weeks in May. 

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.