Talk about a self-inflicted wound. A Dutch F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet was reportedly damaged by its own gunfire back in January. The jet suffered “considerable damage,” but the pilot escaped injury and landed the plane safely.
On January 21, two Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s engaged a practice target on the ground at Vliehors training ground. One pilot fired his M61 Vulcan 20-millimeter Gatling gun, the F-16’s built-in weapon. The jet was struck on the outside by one of the rounds, and the airplane’s engine intake swallowed at least some part of a 20-millimeter round.
The M61 Vulcan Gatling gun has a rate of fire of 6,000 rounds a minute, or 100 per second. The F-16 carries 511 rounds, or enough for five seconds of sustained fire. The gun is designed for very close range air-to-air fighting or strafing targets on the ground.
Believe it or not, this sort of thing has happened before. In 1956, a Grumman F-11 fighter jet shot itself down by flying into a stream of its own bullets. The pilot had fired his four Colt Mk. 12 20-millimeter cannons and a minute later ran into his own gunfire, shooting down his own plane and severely injuring himself in the process. As Seniorhelpline wrote about that incident:
"The test pilot had assumed he had been the victim of a bird strike, but the accident investigation revealed another cause: in his fast descent, the pilot had actually flown into his own stream of 20-millimeter cannon rounds. Although the rounds had a head start (the air speed of the aircraft plus the muzzle velocity of the rounds) they slowed quickly due to drag passing through the surrounding air. The rounds decelerated, the Tiger accelerated, and the two reunited in the sky, with fatal (for the aircraft) consequences."
The Dutch Netherlands Defence Safety Inspection agency is investigating the incident. Here's an image of the fuselage struck by the 20-millimeter round, provided to the Netherlands' by the Ministry of Defense:
Another possibility: the jet was hit with ricochets from the 20-millimeter rounds. This could actually be more plausible depending on the angle and altitude of the aircraft as it opened fire. It's a likely scenario if the aircraft strafed at a low altitude close to the target, and if it was firing at a hard metal target, such as an obsolete tank or armored vehicle.
The Netherlands plans to replace its 1980s-era F-16s with F-35A Joint Strike Fighters soon. The Dutch will buy , with further orders likely.