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An F-35A stealth fighter made a belly landing in South Korea after the jet’s gear malfunctioned

A South Korean F-35 stealth fighter at a base in Daegu, South Korea, October 1, 2019.

Jeon Heon-kyun/Pool via REUTERS

  • A South Korean pilot belly-landed an F-35A on the runway at a base in Seosan on Tuesday.
  • The pilot made an emergency landing after avionics system issues caused the landing gear to malfunction.
  • The South Korean Air Force pilot was able to walk away from the incident unharmed.

A South Korean Air Force pilot was forced to make an emergency gear-up landing in an F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter during a training flight on Tuesday, according to multiple reports.

The stealth fighter crash-landed at 12:51 pm (local time) on the runway at an air force base in Seosan, an official told Yonhap News Agency.

Officials told Yonhap that unspecified issues with an avionics system caused the landing gear to malfunction, forcing the pilot to put the aircraft down with the landing gear up.

“Its landing gear should have been down, but it wasn’t,” a South Korean Air Force official told Stars and Stripes. “So, it made a belly landing.”

This type of landing comes with a number of potential risks, not just to the aircraft but to the pilot as well, but in this case, the pilot “walked out from the plane,” the official explained. Yonhap reported that the pilot made it through the incident “unscathed.”

The South Korean Air Force has suspended F-35A flights as it investigates Tuesday’s crash-landing alongside the US military and manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

South Korean fighter pilot stands next to his F-35 stealth fighter during a ceremony to mark the 71st Armed Forces Day at the Air Force Base in Daegu, South Korea, October 1, 2019A South Korean F-35 stealth fighter in Daegu, South Korea, October 1, 2019.

Jeon Heon-kyun/Pool via REUTERS

There are three variants of the fifth-generation F-35. The A variant is specifically built for air force operations and is equipped with a 25 mm internal cannon. This variant, along with the short-takeoff/vertical landing B variant, has been sold to both the US military and international partners.

Tuesday’s crash is believed to be a first for the South Korean fleet of F-35As, but it is not a first for the variant. In April 2019, for instance, a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force F-35A crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing the Japanese pilot.

In May 2020, a US Air Force F-35A crashed as it came in for a landing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida after a routine nighttime training flight. The next month, another US Air Force F-35A’s landing gear collapsed as it was landing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The pilots were able to walk away after both of the incidents.

South Korea struck a multibillion-dollar deal with Lockheed Martin for 40 conventional takeoff/landing F-35As in 2014.

A South Korean pilot first flew the plane in 2018 during a training event at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. The first jets were delivered to South Korea in 2019. Yonhap reports that the South Korean Air Force has so far received more than 30 of the fifth-gen aircraft it ordered.

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