The story behind this famous photo of an F-16C Viper Belly Landing

The story behind this famous photo of an F-16C Viper Belly Landing

By Dario Leone
Nov 1 2021
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The aircraft involved was USAF F-16C block 25 #83-1161 from the 61st FS. This Viper made a belly landing at Luke Air Force Base.

In the event of an emergency, an aircraft arresting system can be used to safely stop an aeroplane. Aircraft arresting systems (such as BAK-14 and BAK-14M hook cable support systems) are designed to be used with the aircraft arresting hook to “catch” the jet.

When an in-motion aircraft develops an emergency, the aircrew has to decide if they need to use the arresting system. If needed, the pilot deploys the aircraft’s hook, and lands the plane at least 1,000 feet from the arresting system.

The hook drags on the surface of the runway until it comes in contact with the steel cable. Once the aircraft’s hook captures the cable, the cable rips the nylon cords, holding it flat on the runway, and unravels its attached nylon tapes from storage reels.

As the tapes are unraveled, the reels turn a hydraulic pump that applies pressure to a set of modified brakes which bring the aircraft to a stop.

But what do pilots do when their landing gear doesn’t work?

‘Many planes are capable of gear-up landings. It may not be the healthiest option, but if it’s all you got, then it is what it is,’ Brandon Taronji, Ejection Systems Maintainer at US Air Force (2004-present), says on Quora.

‘Our base had an F-16 about 15 years ago that suffered a gear failure in-flight. They could not get the gear down no matter what they tried, and the Wing Commander supposedly gave the pilot permission to ditch the plane and eject. The pilot elected to perform a gear-up landing instead. He brought the jet down right on the centerline fuel tank, riding it all the way down the runway.

‘Notice the trail the tank left on the runway, and that there’s no trail behind the missile. He landed it so straight and level that it didn’t tip over until it finally stopped.’

Noteworthy, according to, the aircraft involved was US Air Force (USAF) F-16C block 25 #83-1161 from the 61st Fighter Squadron (FS). This Viper made a belly landing at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) on Jun. 17, 2004. Only the fuel tank, the right ventral fin and the captive AIM-9 were damaged.

Taronji concluded; ‘The plane was inspected and returned to service after some work. Unfortunately, it has since been sent to the Boneyard.’

Luke F-16D Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-16D Fighting Falcon 19th Air Force, 56th Fighter Wing, 310th Fighter Squadron “Tophats”, LF/88-0175 – Luke AFB, AZ – 2011

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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