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The A-10 Warthog Is So Tough It Can Land On Its Belly

A-10. Image: Creative Commons.
Image: Creative Commons.

Just How Tough Is the A-10 Warthog? The US Air Force pilot who skillfully belly-landed her plane with the landing gear up and the cockpit canopy ripped off will become the first woman A-10 pilot to receive a coveted aviation safety award, an Air Force official told Insider.

Capt. Taylor Bye, a 75th Fighter Squadron pilot, pulled off an emergency belly landing in her A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft in April 2020 after an unexplained gun malfunction over Grand Bay Range at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia sent panels and her cockpit canopy soaring and prevented her landing gear from deploying.

Gen. Mark Kelly, the commander of Air Combat Command, awarded Bye the ACC Airmanship Award on May 5 because “she managed to skillfully and safely land her A-10 with minimal damage” even as her plane was, as her wingman described it, “falling apart.”

That award is not the only award Bye will be receiving for her actions, Insider learned.

“She will later be presented the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy,” Moody Air Force Base spokesman Master Sgt. Daryl Knee said.

This prestigious award “recognizes outstanding feats of airmanship by aircrew members who by extraordinary skill, exceptional alertness, ingenuity or proficiency, averted accidents or minimized the seriousness of the accidents in terms of injury, loss of life, aircraft damage, or property damage,” Knee said.

The Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy memorializes a pilot who was lost when his T-33 disappeared in 1955. The award has been given out every year since 1957, and it is the only individual flight safety award the Air Force chief of staff personally presents, according to the service.

Capt. Ripley Woodard III is the only A-10 pilot who has received this award. He received it in 1999 after his A-10A suffered a double engine failure in flight. Woodward overcame the challenges he faced in the air and got his plane safely back to base.

MSgt. Knee told Insider that Bye will become “the first female A-10 pilot to receive the Kolligian Trophy.” He explained that “her accomplishments were deemed worthy of one of the most coveted aviation awards.”

During Bye’s emergency last year, the force of the wind hitting her at more than 350 mph after her canopy was blown off likely slammed her into her seat.

Pulling away from the ground, she assessed the damage in cooperation with her wingman, checking her engines and thinking about her next steps.

A chase aircraft arrived on scene to assist her as she made her approach on her return to base, but it was on her to actually land the plane.

She had lowered her seat to shield herself from the strong wind, but it made seeing the runway a lot more difficult, creating more problems in an already tough situation.

“Where’s the ground, where’s the ground,” Bye recalled thinking in an Air Force statement. “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,” Bye said. “My job was to take care of myself and to take care of the jet.” That’s exactly what she did.

Knee told Insider that “Bye earned her Kolligian recognition by extraordinary skill and quick thinking that spared her life and saved the aircraft.”

The first known incident of a pilot belly landing an A-10 without landing gear or the cockpit canopy occurred in 2017 and was accomplished by Maj. Brett DeVries, who was a captain with the Michigan Air National Guard at the time.

During a training flight, the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger rotary cannon on his aircraft unexpectedly failed, triggering an explosion that blew off the canopy, tore off some of the paneling, and damaged the landing gear.

DeVries, a pilot with the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in November 2020 for getting the aircraft back on the ground safely.

Ryan Pickrell is a senior military and defense reporter at Business Insider (where this first appeared), where he covers the Pentagon and defense-related issues from Washington, DC.

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Ryan Pickrell is a senior military and defense reporter at Business Insider, where he covers the Pentagon and defense-related issues from Washington, DC.