South Korea grounds F-35A fleet following belly landing

The Daehanminguk Gong-gun (Republic of Korea Air Force, RoKAF) has grounded its Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fleet after one example was forced to perform an emergency belly landing following an avionic system issue on January 4.

According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, the aircraft was conducting a training mission when an unspecified avionics-related landing gear malfunction forced the pilot to perform a gear-up landing on a foam covered runway at Seosan Air Base in the nation’s South Chungcheong province. The incident occurred at 1251hrs (local time) and the pilot walked away unharmed. It has been reported that this attrition case marks the first belly landing for the F-35 Lightning II family.

First RoKAF F-35A in flight 19-03-21 [Lockheed Martin Aeronautics]
South Korea’s first Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II – serial 18-001 (c/n AW-01) – conducts its first flight over the US on March 19, 2018. The first two F-35As arrived at Cheongju Air Base in South Korea’s North Chungcheong province later that year. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

The South Korean news agency states that “before the landing, the Air Force mobilised a fire engine to apply special foam on the runway, which prevented the jet’s fuselage from sustaining any serious damage.” While the F-35A is reported to have received minor damage during the incident, no details have been revealed regarding the extent of it.

As a result of this incident, South Korean officials have decided to suspend all RoKAF F-35A flights pending the result of an investigation. Yonhap adds that the RoKAF plans to launch a joint investigation with the US military to determine the cause of the emergency landing.

To date, the RoKAF has received more than 30 examples of the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL)-configured F-35A from a total of 40 aircraft ordered. South Korea intends to acquire 60 F-35As in total and is also planning to procure approximately 20 short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs for use aboard a new light aircraft carrier. However, a deal for the latter has yet to be made.

South Korea’s F-35A Lightning II fleet is currently split between two units – the 151st and 152nd Fighter Squadrons – under the stewardship of the RoKAF’s 17th Fighter Wing at Cheongju Air Base, which is located in the country’s North Chungcheong province.