S. Korea says F-35A emergency landing caused by bird strike, subsequent damage

SEOUL-- South Korea's radar-evading F-35A fighter made an emergency belly landing in January due to a bird strike that caused internal damage, its military said Thursday.

Wrapping up a weekslong probe into the incident on Jan. 4, the Air Force said a 10-kilogram eagle hit the plane's left air intake, penetrated a bulkhead into its weapons bay and caused damage to a hydraulic duct and power supply wiring that affected its navigation system and landing gear operation.

The incident occurred when the fighter was making a low-altitude flight to enter a shooting range for an air-to-ground firing mission after taking off from an air base in Cheongju, 140 kilometers south of Seoul, officials said. The pilot emerged unscathed.

Soon after the incident, South Korea and the United States formed a joint investigation team consisting of 12 South Korean experts and 14 U.S. officials from the government, the Air Force and the manufacturer of the fighter.

Investigators have looked into the fighter's flight recorder, air traffic control radar track data and statements from the pilot to verify the cause of the emergency landing.

The Air Force plans to resume the operations of its F-35A jets on Monday after weeks of suspension.

Investigators also announced results of a separate probe into a deadly KF-5E fighter crash on Jan. 11, attributing it to two small holes found in a fuel pipe.

Some fuel leaked through the holes, leading the decades-old fighter's engine to catch fire during takeoff. The pilot in his late 20s died after the jet crashed into a mountain in Hwaseong, some 40 kilometers south of Seoul.

"The holes are presumed to have been caused by corrosion," an Air Force official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Maintenance staff apparently failed to find the holes inside the plane as they usually check the fighter with their bare eyes, the official said.

Following the crash, the Air Force checked safety conditions of all KF-5Es and their fuel pipes to prevent a recurrence, officials said. It also plans to resume the operation of KF-5Es next week.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has recently recommended the government confer an order of service merit on the deceased pilot of the crashed fighter as well as the F-35A pilot, according to a military source.

In late January, Korea's Air Force completed the deployment of 40 F-35A radar-evading fighters. The deployment of the 40 jets was initially set for the end of last year, but it was delayed due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a centerpiece of the country's air power, the warplane is expected to boost operational capabilities and strengthen its readiness posture against potential enemy forces, according to Air Force officers.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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