G222 Accident at RIAT 2002

The pilot of this Italian Air Force G222 transport plane certainly put on a magnificent display, but it all came unstuck at the end.   After doing a very steep "Sarajevo" landing approach, which I've seen at other airshows, he levelled out, but landed hard...

The impact pushed the plane back into the air.   A little embarassing, but all would still have been well if he'd kept the plane level.   Instead, it came in nose first, and the nosewheel hit the runway well before the main gear.   I was so shocked by what I knew was a very bad situation that I didn't get a photo of him pitching downwards.

G222 bouncing after hard landing

I guess most of the audience still wasn't aware that something was seriously out of the ordinary, but from my position up in the press stand it was very obvious that the nosewheel was badly damaged.   Still, for a couple of seconds it seemed as if no further problems were in store.

G222 back on the runway with obviously damaged nosewheel

But then the nosegear finally gave up, jamming the tires between the fuselage and the runway.   Dragging along the tarmac, smoke started pouring out from the tires, alerting everyone that things had gone wrong.   The Italian press contingent standing next to me started shouting "fotografo, fotografo!", but it was too late - their photographer was inside the press tent getting a cup of coffee!

G222 nosewheel smoking with F117 in background

Smoke continued to pour out as the plane skidded down the runway, its propellers still spinning with some speed.   Perhaps it's evidence of the pilot's skill that the aircraft continued straight down the centre line, instead of veering off to either side.

smoke pouring out from G222 as it slides down the runway

Finally the heat from the friction of the tires along the runway got so high that the rubber burst into flames, which ironically resulted in less smoke.   If you look carefully, you'll see a strip of rubber from the tires bouncing along the runway behind the plane!

G222 sliding with flames under the nose

Although the flames were spectacular, it was becoming clearer that this was no major catastrophe, but just another of the military accidents which happen on a regular basis but make little or no impact in the news media.   However since this was a very public accident, and since accidents at airshows bring out some of the sensationalism which is part and parcel of the media, the BBC ran a short article on the accident, though perhaps one more low-key than the American news media or the British tabloids would have done!

flames pour back under the fuselage as the G222 continues sliding

At last the plane came to a halt, the pilots wasted no time in getting out, and the emergency services rushed out to get things under control.   That's one of the pilots on the left hand-side of this photo, perhaps wondering how many years his salary would be docked before he would finally finish paying for the damage!

G222 at a standstill with fire tenders and crews around it, and with the pilot walking beside

I was pretty excited by this whole turn of events once I got over the initial shock and when it had become clear that this wasn't a catastrophic accident.

It took 10 or 15 minutes before I realized the flip side of the accident; the runway was now blocked, meaning that the show was severely restricted.  A few planes from other locations flew by, the helicopters and harriers could still do their thing, and a few aircraft like the Hawk display team took off and landed even with the G222 still immobile on the runway.

However, for the next five or so hours the show didn't go on, which of course was pretty disappointing.

sweeper truck cleaning debris off the runway after the accident