Abused fighter planes and the men who love them
A few months ago, I wrote about how to shoot down a fighter jet while flying it, the case of a test-pilot in a Grumman F-11 Tiger who managed to catch up to his own gunfire.
One of the fantastic things I found out in the course of writing that piece was that Tom Attridge wasn’t the only fighter pilot to shoot himself out of the sky.
In 1973, Pete Purvise shot his F-14 down with a Sparrow missile while testing the Sparrow missile launch system. He was meant to be testing the launch characteristics at zero G but they weren’t really worried about the F-14 so much that the missile might pitch down too dramatically and lose the rear radar required to maintain its target.
I was going to write a full post about the incident but actually, there’s already an excellent write-up available, written by the pilot himself. The full article, with great photographs of the aircraft and the missile launch system, was published in Flight Journal is available to read as a PDF and I highly recommend it.
He mentions that the honor of being “they guy who shot himself down” is unique to him and Attridge in the Tiger, but last year, a third pilot managed to shoot himself in an F-16.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot was flying a training exercise in an F-16, firing at a target on the ground, when he managed a direct hit on his own aircraft using the F-16’s 20mm rotary cannon.
At least one round pierced the fuselage and, after he landed safely at Leeuwarden Air Base, they found shrapnel from a 20-millimeter round in the engine intake. The aircraft, officials said, had taken considerable damage and an investigation had been initiated.
The Inspectie Veiligheid Defensie has initiated an investigation to discover just how the F-16 was able to fire on itself. I have to admit, I find it hard to imagine, although Popular Mechanics theorises that as the F-16 was strafing ground targets, it was possible that the damage to the aircraft was caused by ricochets from its own rounds striking a hard metal object on the ground..
In the process of searching for more information, I searched on “F-16, mishaps, Leeuwarden” and discovered that at the end of last year, the Royal Netherlands Air Force gave a rather odd welcome to their first operational F-35A Lightning II.
Redditor krijgnog5eurovanje explained that the air base fire department were ready with a traditional water salute when they were distracted by an actual emergency with an F-16. When they returned for the water salute, they forgot to switch from foam to water.
This video about the arrival of the first F-35 in Leeuwarden shows the fighter’s unexpected welcome at Leeuwarden (I’ve jumped right to the end):
Amusingly, the arrival of the F-35 is celebrated in the Ministerie van Defensie press release showing the firetrucks spraying in welcome but not a mention of the mishap or why the F-35 got an impromptu foam bath. Thre are more photographs of the incident and clean-up on the Defensie Fotografie Nederland website.
I always thought that life as a military pilot must be dangerous but I’m coming to conclusion that being a fighter jet is actually much more frought!