ASDF F-2 crashes on takeoff; pilots hurt

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

NAGOYA — An Air Self-Defense Force fighter jet crashed on takeoff and caught fire around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday at Nagoya airport, slightly injuring the pilot and copilot.

The F-2 support fighter was undergoing a regular maintenance check and was set to take its first test flight following the maintenance, said its maker, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

It is the first major accident involving the F-2 fighter since its deployment in 2000. The ASDF said it will suspend F-2 flights until the cause of the crash is determined.

The two pilots, who were taken to the hospital after the crash, are former Self-Defense Forces personnel now working at MHI’s Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works, the company said.

They were identified as chief pilot Keiji Nagata, 52, and copilot Mitsuo Mizushima, 56.

The airport reported the jet fighter — a two-seat F-2B used for training missions — failed during takeoff, crashed and caught fire. The fire was extinguished shortly after the crash.

F-2 fighters — jointly developed by Japan and the United States — are the main successor to the domestically manufactured F-1 support fighters. Their deployment began in October 2000 at the ASDF’s base in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture.

Based on the F-16 fighter, the F-2, which began development in 1988, took 12 years to roll out due to several delays stemming from various technical problems. The fighter is costly, at an average ¥12 billion per plane.

Wednesday’s accident was the first involving an F-2, ASDF spokesman 1st Lt. Yuki Shiiba said.

A total of 75 F-2s, including the one involved in Wednesday’s crash, have been deployed so far, he said.

According to MHI and the airport operator, the F-2, deployed at the ASDF Matsushima Base in Miyagi Prefecture, has been undergoing maintenance by MHI since May.

TV footage showed the jet suddenly dip and skid along the ground in flames shortly after taking off. The pilots jumped from the burning fuselage.

Nagata was quoted by a hospital official as saying the fighter “fell to the ground almost vertically from a height of about 50 meters.”

The flight plan called for the jet to engage in touch-and-go landings as well as test flights over the Sea of Japan.

The plane was delivered to the ASDF in March 2004, and has logged about 740 hours.