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F-16 Jets Explode After Mechanic Fires Cannon From Another Parked Jet In Bizarre Accident

An almost unbelievable accident occurred at a Belgian military air base days ago which involved one F-16 jet destroying two others — all while stationary on the ground. 

Stunning photos of the aftermath show a completely destroyed Belgian Air Force F-16 fighter and another severely damaged one after a third fired its M61A1 Vulcan 20mm cannon across the flight line while parked. “You can’t help thinking of what a disaster this could have been,” base commander Col. Didier Polome told a Belgian television news station in the aftermath.

The incident happened last Friday at Florennes Air Base in Southern Belgium during routine maintenance of the jet that fired, and reportedly involved the crew servicing an F-16 accidentally triggering the heavy aircraft cannon.

Destroyed F-16 at Florennes Air Base in Belgium. Image source: Tony Delvita via The Aviationist

The Aviationist reports the following of what is being described as a "bizarre accident": 

Multiple reports indicate that a mechanic servicing the parked aircraft accidentally fired the six-barreled 20mm Vulcan cannon at close range to two other parked F-16s. Photos show one F-16AM completely destroyed on the ground at Florennes. Two maintenance personnel were reported injured and treated at the scene in the bizarre accident.

The aircraft being serviced had just been refuelled and had its six barrel cannon loaded as it was being prepped for an afternoon training mission. 

The impact of the 20mm bullets on the other aircraft, which the crew said was just out of eyesight, caused the jet that was struck to explode instantly, according to reports. 

Image via The Aviationist

A report on the monitoring website F-16.net described that, “An F-16 (tail number FA-128) was completely destroyed while a second F-16 received collateral damage from the explosions. Two personnel were wounded and treated at the scene. Injuries sustained were mainly hearing related from the explosion.”

Thick black smoke could be seen for miles around the area, to which scores of emergency personnel were immediately dispatched. 

According to a defense analysis source, Belgium currently has 60 active F-16 aircraft, including 48 on duty for NATO.

The Aviationist describes the exceedingly bizarre nature of the incident, which sounds like something one would see in an over the top Hollywood movie scene:

The accident is quite weird: it’s not clear why the technician was working on an armed aircraft that close to the flight line. Not even the type of inspection or work has been unveiled. For sure it must have been a check that activated the gun even though the aircraft was on the ground: the use of the onboard weapons (including the gun) is usually blocked by a fail-safe switch when the aircraft has the gear down with the purpose of preventing similar accidents.

But clearly there were no fail-safes that prevented this strange incident involving a hail of ground fire across a runway. 

Scramble Magazine published the following photo showing how the aircraft are usually aligned, and delineated the angle of the cannon fire.

Source: Scramble Magazine

Belgium's Ministry of Defense announced it has launched a formal investigation into the incident. The F-16 fighters cost around $20 million a piece — so the price tag for Friday's accident is going to be quite steep. 

To our knowledge the incident was not caught on film, or at least it hasn't been released to the public. 

However, to visualize how devastating the 20mm Vulcan cannon is, especially at close range, here's some test footage of the ultra-rapid aircraft mounted machine gun at work: