Pilot Awarded for Belly-Landing Plane After Landing Gear Failure

Photo Credit: 1. Andrea Jenkins / U.S. Air Force 2. Airman 1st Class Rachel Perkinson / U.S. Air Force

A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot Capt. Taylor Bye has been awarded the Air Combat Command Airmanship Award for safely belly-landing an A-10 without a canopy or functioning landing gear last year.

The pilot from the 75th Fighter Squadron managed to land the stricken aircraft which had suffered a “catastrophic” failure, according to the U.S. Air Force. The failure was caused by a malfunction of the famous 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon over the Grand Bay Range at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, causing her cockpit canopy to detach, as well as damaging landing gear systems.

U.S. Air Force 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.
Photo Credit: Airman 1st Class Briana Beavers / U.S. Air Force

Thanks to her skill, she managed to safely land the malfunctioning aircraft. Bye said, “My initial reaction was to climb away from the ground and then look at my engines.”

“The amazing thing about the A-10 is even though all these things happened, I had two perfectly working engines and hydraulic systems.”

Teamwork Helped Save the Day

Bye was the flight leader on the day of the incident, accompanied by her wingman Maj. Jack Ingber. After the malfunction, Ingber visually inspected her aircraft to help establish what had gone wrong.

“I slowed down the aircraft and that’s when (Ingber) looked over my jet,” Bye said. “The trust in this community and the Air Force in general, but specifically this fighter squadron, is huge because I’m completely relying on him to let me know what’s going on so I can take the proper action and get both him and I back on the ground safely.”

Ingber assisted with assessing the aircraft’s condition and helped to advise Bye where possible throughout the ordeal.

“When anything [unusual] happens, it’s apparent and very easy to spot it and fix it. It’s my primary job to think of everything that [Bye] is not because she has a massive handful of an airplane that is falling apart.” Said Ingber.

An A-10C Thunderbolt II sits on the runway after making an emergency landing April 7, 2020 at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. The A-10, assigned to the 75th Fighter Squadron, landed with its landing gear in the up position after declaring an in-flight emergency.
The A-10 after its emergency landing. (Photo Credit: Andrea Jenkins / U.S. Air Force)

Once the two had seen the extent of the problems, it was now time for Bye to perform a belly-landing with the 20-ton aircraft.

To stay out of the 350 mph winds rushing over the cockpit, Bye lowered her seat, although this then made it hard for her to see where she was going. “I guess I was nervous the whole time, but I didn’t have time to think about being nervous,” she said. “My job was to take care of myself and to take care of the jet.”

Thankfully, she touched the aircraft down safely and walked away unharmed.

The commander of the 75th Fighter Squadron commented that “what’s most important is preventing total loss of the A-10 or even worse, her life.”

“There are some steps that were covered in the checklist–the rest was just superb airmanship and decision making.”

The A-10’s Famous Ruggedness

The A-10 has become famous over its service life, which has continued for over 30 years, for its incredible durability and reliability. However even they are not totally safe from malfunctions.

A similar incident happened in 2017, with Maj. Brett DeVries from the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, when his A-10 suffered a failure with the GAU-8 autocannon. Similar to Bye’s case, this failure blew off the canopy and rendered the landing gear inoperable.

Bye receiving the ACC Airmanship Award for successfully recovering an A-10C Thunderbolt II during an in-flight emergency.
Bye receiving the ACC Airmanship Award for successfully recovering an A-10C Thunderbolt II during an in-flight emergency. (Photo Credit: Airman 1st Class Rachel Perkinson / U.S. Air Force)

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Like Bye, DeVries performed a belly-landing and also walked away unharmed.

Because “she managed to skillfully and safely land her A-10 with minimal damage” despite the hazardous situation she found herself in, Bye was awarded the Air Combat Command Airmanship Award.