F-35 hit an eagle, 300 parts damaged, incl. the fuselage and engine

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On December 1st, the South Korean Air Force revealed that an F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter jet was severely damaged upon colliding with an eagle last year. Deeming the repair costs exorbitant, the Air Force in Seoul decided to retire the aircraft from its local squadron. 

Photo credit: EurAsian Times

According to the South Korean Air Force, a detailed evaluation along with Lockheed Martin, the creator of the F-35 fighter, yielded a daunting fact – nearly 300 parts of the F-35A fighter suffered damage. This included integral components like the fuselage structure, engines, control, and navigation systems. 

The incident occurred on January 4 of the previous year, as the fighter jet was airborne for a training mission from the Jeonju base. An eagle struck the jet mid-air and was subsequently sucked into the left air intake, causing severe damage to the landing gear hydraulic lines, chains, and other equipment, rendering the landing gear nonfunctional. 

Due to this incident, the pilot was forced to perform an emergency belly landing at the Seosan base. Fortunately, the pilot was unharmed. However, this event resulted in a temporary grounding of all F-35A fighter jets in South Korea. 

The severity of the damage

Although the initial estimation suggested minor damages to the fighter jet, a more thorough inspection revealed the severity of the damage. Cognizant of the high cost and extensive timeline required to repair the stealth fighter, an Air Force assessment committee was established. 

Photo by Monica White Martinsen / NRK

The committee evaluated safety aspects and ultimately decided that retiring the stealth fighter was a better option than attempting repairs. The final decision, however, will be made after receiving approval from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense. 

As reported by Yonhap news agency, South Korean military officials estimate the repair costs for the F-35A fighter jet to be around 140 billion won [approximately US$108 million]. To put this in perspective, BulgarianMilitary.com reminds us that the buying price for these stealth fighters is 110 billion won [approximately $85 million]. 

Comprising 40 F-35A fighters, the South Korean Air Force is contemplating repurposing the decommissioned aircraft. Once retired, the damaged fighter jet could serve a secondary function in “utilizing its residual value” through usage in practical ground mechanic training.

South Korean Eagles

The specific species of the eagle that crossed paths with the F-35 remains unknown. The importance of identifying the eagle species is due to the varying speed capabilities each type possesses, potentially influencing the extent of damage in such encounters. Therefore, the resulting damage may be either more or less severe than what was observed in this case.

One of the most common eagle species in South Korea is the Eastern Imperial Eagle. These eagles are known for their powerful flight and can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour [80 kilometers per hour].

Another species found in South Korea is the White-tailed Eagle. These eagles are larger and heavier than the Eastern Imperial Eagle, and their flight speed is slightly slower, averaging around 40 miles per hour [64 kilometers per hour].

Photo credit: eBird

It’s important to note that the speed of an eagle’s flight can also be influenced by various factors such as wind conditions, weather, and the purpose of their flight. For example, when hunting or chasing prey, eagles may fly at higher speeds to catch their target.

We asked AI

We at BulgarianMilitary.com sought the insight of artificial intelligence to confirm the claim by South Korean aviators that an eagle colliding with a fighter jet could cause significant damage. Surprisingly, if an eagle swoops at a speed of 80 km/h and crashes into a fighter jet, the resulting damage would indeed be substantial. Here’s the analysis provided by our AI:

The force generated by the collision can cause structural damage to the aircraft, potentially compromising its ability to fly and endangering the lives of the pilot and crew on board.

The speed at which the eagle is flying, 80 km/h, may seem relatively slow compared to the speed of a fighter jet. The force exerted on the fighter jet can potentially cause damage to its wings, engines, or other critical components, leading to a loss of control or even a catastrophic failure.

Furthermore, the eagle’s body structure and sharp talons can pose additional risks. The impact of the collision can result in the eagle’s talons penetrating the fighter jet’s exterior, potentially causing further damage to the aircraft’s structure or systems. The eagle’s body, with its relatively large size and weight, can also create a significant obstacle for the fighter jet, increasing the chances of a collision-induced loss of control or a crash.


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