A-10 Pilot Belly Flops His Plane After Perfect Storm of Malfunctions
When things started going downhill for Capt. Brett DeVries’ A-10 Thunderbolt II, they went downhill fast. In the end, it seemed like there was only one thing on the plane that didn’t malfunction: Capt. Brett DeVries. After the canopy blew, and his radios went out, he couldn’t get the landing gear down. But after 25 minutes of flying the crippled jet, he landed it and walked away.
It began as a routine training flight over Alpena County, Michigan on July 20th. DeVries was dropping bombs and strafing on a range designed for the training exercises. That’s when his plane experienced a few…difficulties.
“To this day, I really haven’t second guessed anything,” DeVries told a reporter with the 127th Air Wing. “In that moment, your training kicks in. The training – that’s what saves you and your wingman.”
He was strafing when his gun malfunctioned. At the same time, the canopy on the A-10 blew off. He was flying at an estimated 325 knots, and the loss of the canopy was jarring.
“It was like someone sucker punched me,” he said. “I was just dazed for a moment.”
And he was only about 150 feet from the ground. He needed to gain altitude, fast. Though dazed, he managed to pull back on the stick and climbed to 2,000 feet.
“There was paper everywhere. And I was afraid to open up my emergency checklist, because I knew that would just blow away and maybe get sucked in to an engine,” DeVries said.
He wasn’t sure if he should ditch the plane and eject becasue he wasn’t sure to what extent the ejection system might have been damaged. The engines on an A-10 are above and behind the pilot, who would need to get well clear of the plane in an ejection.
Another pilot, Major Shannon Vickers (left above), flew under him to assess the damage below. The gun problem wasn’t a simple jam. Something had exploded and it didn’t look like he would be able to get his landing gear down.
DeVries asked for onions about his options, but he wanted the final decision to be his. “I didn’t want him to feel like he would be in a position where he told me to do something and it didn’t work. I wanted his full, honest input,” DeVries said.
There was a small airport in Alpena, and DeVries decided to attempt a landing there. After alerting the tower of his situation, Alpena managed to contact his squadron and get A-10 maintenance specialists on speaker phone. These messages were relayed to DeVries, who had lost his primary radio and then his back-up. He was on the third back-up, and able to hear their advice.
While the other pilot, Vickers, flew below him, he tried to lower his landing gear. The nose gear was wrecked by the gun malfunction, and the crew decided it would be best to land on the plane’s belly, and not on the lopsided landing gear.
“I just thought, ‘There is no way this is happening right now.’ It all was sort of surreal, but at the same time, we were 100 percent focused on the task ahead of us,” Vickers said. “As he made final approach, I felt confident he was making the right decision. We had talked through every possibility and now he was going to land it.”
“I flew him down, calling out his altitude,” Vickers said. “He came in flat, I mean it was a very smooth landing.”
“Capt. DeVries skills as a pilot were put to the test in this incident,” said Brig. Gen. John D. Slocum, the 127th Wing commander. “He demonstrated not only superior skill as a pilot but remained calm in an extremely challenging situation. To walk away from this scenario with no injuries is a true testament to his abilities as a world-class fighter pilot.”
Others have landed the A-10 without gear, but they had radios and canopies.
Vickers flew him in, and called out altitude during the landing. He then circled the field before flying out. “And I am thinking, did this just happen? That was the longest flight ever back, to Selfridge,” he said.
“There is a reason why we train as a two-ship or greater,” said Col. Shawn Holtz, Commander of the 127th Operations Group. “We rely on each other and need to have mutual support within the flight. Maj. Vickers was the definition of what a Wingman should be in this flight. He stuck with Capt. DeVries and did everything in his power to see this through to a safe landing. Both of these pilots demonstrated not only superior flying skills, but represent the type of teamwork and professionalism that should be the goal of every Attack Pilot.”
“Again, I want to stress the training,” DeVries said. “Sometimes, perhaps we think, ‘Why do we have to do this training again and again?’ Well, in this case, the training took over and it is what made the difference.”
The incident was reportedly caught on video, though that video remains elusive, at least publicly. Here’s another, though this A-10 still had its canopy, too.