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Thunderbolt bounces back after belly landing

An A-10C Thunderbolt II takes to the sky for the first time after being grounded for two months at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Ariz., Dec. 5, 2014. On Sept. 30, this aircraft came in for a routine landing, but the landing gear failed to extend. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

An A-10C Thunderbolt II takes to the sky for the first time after being grounded for two months at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Ariz., Dec. 5, 2014. On Sept. 30, this aircraft came in for a routine landing, but the landing gear failed to extend. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Post, left, and Senior Airman Charles Nicholls, 357th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chiefs, wait as Capt. Marcus Flagg, 358th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II instructor pilot, completes his pre-flight inspection at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 5, 2014. Flagg conducted a functional check flight for the aircraft, which was grounded for two months after a landing gear malfunction, prior to it returning to the flight rotation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Post, left, and Senior Airman Charles Nicholls, 357th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chiefs, wait as Capt. Marcus Flagg, 358th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II instructor pilot, completes his pre-flight inspection at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 5, 2014. Flagg conducted a functional check flight for the aircraft, which was grounded for two months after a landing gear malfunction, prior to it returning to the flight rotation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Charles Nicholls, 357th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief, personally sends off Capt. Marcus Flagg, 358th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II instructor pilot, as he taxis in aircraft 694 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 5, 2014. Flagg conducted a functional check flight for the aircraft, which was grounded for two months after a landing gear malfunction, prior to it returning to the flight rotation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Charles Nicholls, 357th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief, personally sends off Capt. Marcus Flagg, 358th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II instructor pilot, as he taxis in aircraft 694 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Dec. 5, 2014. Flagg conducted a functional check flight for the aircraft, which was grounded for two months after a landing gear malfunction, prior to it returning to the flight rotation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- On the evening of Sept. 30, an A-10 stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base was coming back to base for a routine landing after completing a standard sortie. Just when everything seemed to be going as planned, disaster struck! The main landing gear failed to extend, putting the pilot in a tough spot. 

During an in-flight landing gear malfunction, A-10 pilots have two options. They can either land the aircraft on the wheels that did extend, or they can pull all of the tires up and land on the belly.

The pilot chose to land on the belly. He was forced to keep the A-10 as straight and level as possible while holding enough airspeed to maintain control until it came to a complete stop.

"The pilot made a great decision landing it on its belly," said Staff Sgt. Justin Post, 357th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief and lead mechanic. "There could have been a lot more damage than what we already had."

According to the 355th Flight Safety Office, it has been about 12 years since D-M has had an incident of this nature.

The A-10 is a rugged aircraft, it is capable of landing on its belly without significant damage. However, just to be safe, this particular aircraft was impounded after its emergency landing.

"After the aircraft was placed in a secure area, we began a standard safety inspection to assess the damage and determine the root cause of the incident," said Tech. Sgt. Mark Bapp, 355th Fighter Wing flight safety.

Once that inspection was complete, Airmen from the 357th AMU worked diligently to put the A-10C Thunderbolt II back in the fight.

"We have been working on the aircraft for about 2 months," Post said. "The longest part was when we had to take off all of the bolts from the wings and send them for nondestructive inspections."

When the aircraft landed on its belly, the impact had the potential to create stress fractures in the bolts and wings. Nondestructive inspections, or NDI's, are performed to detect cracks or damage that is unseen by the human eye using any combination of these five methods: fluorescent penetrate, magnetic particle, ultrasound, electrical current and X-ray.

Prior to returning this aircraft to the flight rotation, it had to pass a Functional Check Flight. The flight determines whether an aircraft's airframe, engines, accessories, or equipment is functioning according to established standards.

On Dec. 5, Aircraft #694 was wheels up for the first time in approximately two months.

"We worked together as a team for a long time making sure (this aircraft) is mission capable," Post said. "It was a thrill to see it in the sky."