South Korea has reportedly confirmed the grounding of the country’s entire fleet of F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft.
The decision follows after a South Korean Air Force pilot was forced to perform a belly landing during a training flight on 4 January.
The emergency landing took place at Seosan Air Base in the western province of South Chungcheong.
An investigation has been launched and the fleet will remain grounded until further notice.
A defence ministry official was quoted by news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) as saying: “With the investigation underway, the entire (F-35) fleet is suspended from flying.”
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At a parliamentary hearing, the Republic of Korea Air Force vice-chief of staff Shin Ok-chul detailed the incident and noted that the landing was forced due to a ‘major systems malfunction’.
Shin was quoted by AFP: “All systems had stopped working except flight controls and the engine.”
This problem stopped the aircraft’s landing gear from working. The pilot decided not to eject and landed the aircraft, which was flying at a low altitude at that moment, on its belly unharmed.
It is not the first time that the US-built F-35 has been involved in emergency landing incidents.
In 2020, a US Air Force F-35A crashed when landing at Eglin Air Force Base while it suffered several other collapses with Japan and other operators. More recently, a UK F-35B crashed into the Mediterranean on 17 November 2021.