The F-16, hit by the cannon fire, caught fire and exploded having recently been refuelled and made ready for a training sortie due to take place later that day. Another aircraft received minor damage.
If anyone ever needed a reminder of the lethal dangers of working with live munitions, then a recent incident at Florennes Air Base in Belgium is the ultimate wake-up call.
It is thought a maintenance worker accidentally activated the six-barrel 20mm Vulcan M61A-1 cannon hitting another plane parked on the runway.
No-one was in the line of fire, but two technicians were taken to the medical centre on the base suffering from noise related effects
Base commander Colonel Didier Polome told Belgian news channels flight operations had been suspended while an investigation into the incident was carried out.
“You can’t help thinking of what a disaster this could have been,” he said. The area was secured and checked to ensure there was no further discharge of toxic substances.
The Belgian Air Force was reluctant to discuss the cause of the incident until the full investigation had been completed but were quick to condemn Belgian newspaper De Standaard for an article for unfairly lampooning the Air Force for destroying one of its own aircraft.
A BELGIAN Air Component F-16 fighter has been destroyed and another plane has been left damaged. It is reported that the accident was caused by the negligent discharge of the six-barrel 20 mm Vulcan M61A-1 cannon on another F-16. pic.twitter.com/mdbTxF4zC3
— Paki 007 (@PakiPsyop007) April 25, 2019
In an open letter Colonel Polome and Jeroen Poesen, Commander of Kleine-Brogel Air Base reminded readers that maintaining a world-class Airforce was a serious business and both pilots and support staff had excelled as part of NATO missions in the Balkans and more widely in Afghanistan, Libya and the Middle East.
However, they went on to confirm that their investigations must determine, “what combination of circumstances could lead to this significant incident.
Appropriate measures will be taken both to prevent a subsequent incident and to punish a possible misconduct.” Which has done nothing to quell rumours that this may have been an act of sabotage.
De Standaard has declined to either print or comment on the content of the commanders’ letter.
The Florennes Air Base is home to the Second Tactical Wing and until 2009 was the home of the NATO Tactical Leadership Program, which is a joint training program supported by ten NATO members.
Two fighter squadrons, 1 Squadron, formed in 1917, and 350 Squadron formed in 1942 in Britain during World War Two, are based at Florennes.
The base was used by the German Luftwaffe during WWII up until its capture by the Allies in September 1944. Ju88, Bf110 night-fighters and Focke-Wulf Fw190 day-fighters were based at the airfield.
Following capture the Allies based the USAAF 430th Fighter Squadron here flying ground attack missions with P38 Lockheed Lightnings. At night the Americans flew Northrop P-61 Black Widows with the 422nd Night Fighter Squadron.
The F-16, Fighting Falcon was developed by General Dynamics for the US Air Force as a superiority day-fighter and proved to be a versatile all-weather aircraft.
More than 4,600 have left the factory since 1976 with all current production built for export. Lockheed Martin, the current constructors claim that the F-16 is the most widely used and most numerous fixed-wing fighter planes in the world with export destinations in twenty-five countries.
The F-16 features a frameless canopy for enhanced visibility, a side-mounted control stick for better control and a fly-by-wire flight control system which helps to make this one of the most agile fighter planes in our skies.
It can be customised for many missions with eleven mounting points for both weapons and other equipment.
The Belgian Air Force has a complement of sixty F-16s with forty-eight committed to NATO operations. The Belgian Aviation Safety Directorate is currently investigating the incident and is due to report in the spring of 2020.