Two US McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets left Taiwan yesterday afternoon after spending two days undergoing maintenance at the Tainan Air Force Base, following the discovery of a blinking oil pressure light by one of the pilots, who had requested an emergency landing at the airfield the base shares with the civilian Tainan Airport.
US aircraft technicians arrived on Thursday evening aboard a Hercules C-130 transport plane and quickly resolved the problem.
The two F/A-18s were kept in hangars belonging to Air Asia Co (亞洲航空) at Tainan Airport, with the repair work carried out on F/A-18 Hornet SW404.
Photo: Huang Chih-yuan, Taipei Times
At about 10am yesterday, F/A-18 SW404 was towed from the hangar onto the runway, where its engine was switched on and tested, observers said.
The two F/A-18 Hornets, SW404 and SW410, from US Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323), took off shortly after 1pm. The US Hercules transport plane took off at about 3:15pm.
American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) spokesman Mark Zimmer said the aircraft flew to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
Before their departure, US military and Taiwanese air force personnel exchanged gifts as a show of friendship and to mark the “surprise visit” of the two jets.
“Our Air Force 443rd Tactical Fighter Wing presented the US pilots, Hercules C-130 crew and aircraft technicians with hats and coffee cups featuring the unit’s patch,” Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said.
In return, the US Air Force personnel gave their Taiwanese counterparts souvenir coins and a VMFA-323 patch.
The 443rd Tactical Fighter Wing, based at Tainan Air Force Base, provided logistical assistance to the F/A-18 jets, Taiwanese military officials said.
The AIT and the US Department of State expressed gratitude to Taiwan for the assistance.
US Marine Corps public affairs officer Major Paul Greenberg said: “The reason for selecting Taiwan as a landing site was based on proximity and weather conducive to landing,” adding that safety is always the top priority.
“Our pilots have the responsibility for diverting their aircraft to the nearest approved airfield if they experience an in-flight condition which they deem unsafe,” he said on Thursday. “This is done in order to protect the pilots, crew and the aircraft.”
US defense analyst Rick Fisher was quoted earlier in a press report as saying that the Pentagon was sending a political message to Beijing following a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force training exercise that saw its new H-6K bombers flying over the Bashi Channel on Monday.
He said the aircraft could have landed at a less controversial location like the Japanese airfield at Shimoji Island, 193km east of Taiwan.
VMFA-323 is deployed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, he said.
The landing of the jets in Taiwan, “while perhaps unintended, does give China a significant signal of US resolve, two days after China used its new H-6K nuclear cruise missile bomber in exercises intended to signal a threat to US forces on Guam,” Fisher said.
Additional reporting by CNA
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