Air Force awards A-10 pilot for skillfully belly landing her plane without landing gear after ‘catastrophic’ failure

An A-10C Thunderbolt II sits on the runway after making an emergency landing April 7, 2020 at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia
An A-10 on the runway after an emergency landing at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, April 7, 2020. US Air Force photo by Andrea Jenkins
  • Capt. Taylor Bye safely landed an A-10 with no canopy and inoperable landing gear last year.
  • She was recently awarded the Air Combat Command Airmanship Award for her skillful flying.
  • Her achievement follows a similar incident in 2017, for which a National Guard pilot was awarded.
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The US Air Force awarded a fighter pilot for skillfully landing a damaged aircraft without a cockpit canopy or working landing gear after what the service described as a “catastrophic” failure.

Capt. Taylor Bye, a 75th Fighter Squadron pilot, pulled off an emergency belly landing in her A-10C Thunderbolt II fighter jet in April last year after a gun malfunction over Grand Bay Range at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia sent panels and her cockpit canopy flying and prevented her landing gear from deploying.

The 23rd Wing at Moody AFB announced on Friday that Bye received the Air Combat Command Airmanship Award because “she managed to skillfully and safely land her A-10 with minimal damage” despite the challenges she faced.

Capt. Taylor Bye, 75th Fighter Squadron pilot and chief of standardization and evaluation, poses on the flight line at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, May 5, 2021
Capt. Taylor Bye on the flight line at Moody Air Force Base, May 5, 2021 US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Briana Beavers

Bye recalled in an Air Force statement that when things first started going wrong, she pulled away from the ground and checked her engines, which were both working as intended. She then slowed down and allow her wingman, Maj. Jack Ingber, inspect the damaged aircraft and identify problems.

Ingber said that it was his “job to think of everything that (Bye) is not because she has a massive handful of an airplane that is falling apart.”

After determining what had gone wrong, Bye then had to figure out how to land the plane.

Bye had lowered her seat to shield herself from the wind blowing in her face at 563km/h, but it made it difficult to see the runway.

“I thought, ‘where’s the ground, where’s the ground,'” Bye recalled. ” I was holding my breath at that point. I guess I was nervous the whole time, but I didn’t have time to think about being nervous. My job was to take care of myself and to take care of the jet.”

Lt. Col. Stephen Joca, the 75th Fight Squadron commander, said that “what’s most important is preventing total loss of the A-10 or even worse, her life.” That is exactly what Bye managed to do.

Though such occurrences are rare, they do happen.

Capt. Brett DeVries with the A-10 he safely landed after a malfunction. Photo courtesy US Air National Guard

In November, Maj. Brett DeVries, a Michigan Air National Guard A-10 pilot with the “Red Devils,” the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a 2017 belly landing without working landing gear or a cockpit canopy.

During a strafing run at about 604km/h, the powerful 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger rotary cannon on his aircraft unexpectedly failed, triggering an explosion that blew the canopy off, stripped off some of the panels, and damaged the landing gear.

Despite all of those problems, DeVries managed to get the aircraft back on the ground safely.

That wild incident is believed to be the first time in the four-decade history of the A-10 that a pilot has landed with no canopy and with the landing gear up, the Air Force said in 2017.