A Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon operated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) was forced to make an emergency landing after the multi-role fighter shot itself with its own cannon.

The incident occurred on 21 January 2019, however, reports on the incident are only just beginning to surface. It took place during a training engagement on a practice target at Vliehors training ground in the Netherlands.

Dutch state broadcaster NOS reports that the aircraft flew into its own stream of cannon rounds, which originated from the F-16’s built-in M61 Vulcan 20mm Gatling gun. The aircraft reportedly suffered “considerable damage,” with at least one round damaging the fuselage and munition parts were later found in the engine. The pilot was unhurt in the incident and was able to land the aircraft safely back at Leeuwarden Air Base. Below is an image tweeted by NOS of the damage caused to the aircraft’s fuselage.

“This is a serious incident. We therefore want to fully investigate what happened and how we would be able to avoid this in future.”

Inspector General Wim Bagerbos

An investigation is now underway to find out how this incident was able to occur and to determine how this could be avoided in the future. Inspector General Wim Bagerbos said: “This is a serious incident. We therefore want to fully investigate what happened and how we would be able to avoid this in future.”

The M61 Vulcan 20mm Gatling gun was designed in 1946 by General Electric (now General Dynamics) and entered operational service in 1959. The six-barrel, air-cooled, electrically fired rotary cannon has an exceptionally high rate of fire, being able to fire 6,000 20mm rounds a minute. The F-16 carries 511 rounds, enough for five seconds of cannon fire to be used in close range air-to-air combat or the strafing of ground targets.

This type of incident has happened before. In 1956, a Grumman test pilot flying in an F-11F Tiger was diving from 20,000ft (6,096 metres) to 7,000ft (2134 metres) whilst firing its 20mm cannon. The aircraft ran into its own munitions when pulling out of the dive. AvGeekery’s Bill Walton wrote that: “When the pilot pulled up out of his dive the rounds he fired, their trajectory having decayed in the interim, intersected with his aircraft.”

The investigation into the recent incident continues. More follows…

By Khalem Chapman [09/04/2019]