When pilot training takes over

Photo Courtesy U.S. Air National Guard Capt. Brett DeVries, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot of the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, poses next to the aircraft he safely landed after a malfunction forced him to make an emergency landing July 20 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center.

ALPENA — What began as simple training missions over Camp Grayling turned into a severely malfunctioning aircraft and a dangerous crash landing in Alpena for Michigan Air National Guard Captain Brett DeVries.

DeVries was able to safely land his A-10 Thunderbolt II after experiencing several mechanical and radio failures on July 20 in the air over central Michigan.

According to press release issued by Selfridge Air Force Base, DeVries was completing a drill at Camp Grayling when the 30mm machine gun on the plane’s front malfunctioned. At the same time the canopy of the plane ejected from the aircraft. At the time of the canopy coming apart, DeVries was traveling at 325 knots and when the force of the wind struck him it threw him back into his seat violently.

“It was like someone sucker punched me,” he said “I was just dazed for a moment.”

At the time of the malfunction the pilot was only 150 feet off the ground and instinctively he steered the jet to about 2,000 feet to give himself room to adjust to the conditions well above the earth.

After stabilizing his altitude, DeVries’ prior training took over. He lowered his seat to help avoid some of the turbulence from the rush of air, but also made utilizing his maps and checklist impossible.

“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 into an engine,” DeVries said.

While DeVries assessed the situation, his wingman Major Shannon Vickers flew his jet under the damaged one and soon after both pilots decided the best course of action was to fly to Alpena and attempt a landing. As he neared Alpena County Regional Airport DeVries couldn’t get his front landing gear down. Vickers said for as many obstacles that DeVries had to overcome, he landed the plane about as perfect as anyone could have.

“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. “I flew him down while calling out his altitude,” Vickers said. “He came in flat. I mean it was a very smooth landing.”

In all, the flight lasted about 25 minutes from the time the canopy blew off until landing, though it felt longer to the two pilots in the air, Vickers said.

An investigation is underway into the cause of the original malfunction. Thanks to DeVries’ skills in landing the aircraft, the damaged Warthog is expected to be able to eventually be returned to flying status. As for his fellow Airmen, the 107th as a whole stood down from flying for several days, but have since returned to regular flight ops.

DeVries said the drills and practice he learned previously helped him to calmly assess and take action. He said without it, the crash could have been much worse.

“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 A-10 is still at Alpena where it is being repaired and will return to the flying inventory at Selfridge.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.