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Shaw F-16 drops two fuel tanks after malfunction

September 22, 2006 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A US Air Force F-16CJ dropped two 370-gallon fuel tanks as it was taking off from Shaw Air Force Base Thursday.

USAF F-16C block 50 #94-0047 visiting Hill AFB, Utah on May 6, 2006 only a few months prior.

Both tanks have been recovered in the Wedgefield area, about five miles southeast of the base, and have already been transported back. The plane landed safely, no injuries were reported and no buildings were struck by the tanks.

The F-16 (#94-0047) experienced a mechanical malfunction when it took off about 13.30h from Shaw. Before returning to base, the pilot jettisoned the fuel tanks to lighten the plane and to make a safer landing.

A witness told that the jet had a ball of fire coming out of the exhaust as it was taking off. The pilot also dispensed its chaff and flares.

The 18¼ -foot-long fuel tanks are 26½ inches in diameter and have an empty weight of 443 pounds. Each tank is capable of holding 370 gallons of fuel but it isn't clear how much fuel was still in the tanks.

"Most of the fuel in the external tanks was used when the jet used its afterburner to take off", said Kimberly Champagne, an Air Force spokeswoman.

There was some spillage from one of the tanks and a 30-by-30-foot area was cordoned off untill a clean-up crew arrived.

Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, is home to the Air Force's largest combat F-16 wing -- the 20th Fighter Wing. It is also the headquarters of the Ninth Air Force, which is responsible primarily for fighter units in the eastern United States.

The 20th FW operates about 80 F-16s and consists of three squadrons, the 55th ("Fighting Fifty Fifth"), the 77th ("Gamblers") and the 79th ("Tigers") Fighter Squadrons.

A board of officers will investigate the incident.

Additional images:

USAF F-16C block 50 #94047 based at Shaw AFB attending the Tiger Meet Of The Americas in 2003, held at Cold Lake AB, Canada. Note the IFF birdslicers, meaning this aircraft already received the CCIP upgrade. [Photo by Philippe Colin]

F-16C block 50 #94044, from the 20th FW at Shaw AFB, is one of the last F-16s delivered to the USAF and is used in the SEAD role [Photo by Sr Airman Greg L. Davis]