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Air Force A-10 pilot earns prestigious award for pulling off an 'extraordinary' belly landing with no cockpit canopy and damaged landing gear

  • Maj. Brett DeVries, an A-10 pilot with the Michigan Air National Guard, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Friday for an "extraordinary" emergency landing.
  • During a routine training flight, a gun failure caused an explosion that blew away the cockpit canopy, stripped the plane of several panels, and damaged the landing gear.
  • He pulled off a belly landing with no cockpit canopy in what was believed to be a first in the four-decade history of the A-10.
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An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot recently received the Air Force's oldest aviation award for getting his aircraft safely back on the ground after everything went wrong during a training flight.

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett awarded Maj. Brett DeVries, a Michigan Air National Guard pilot with the "Red Devils," the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, the Distinguished Flying Cross last Friday, the 127th Wing said in a statement Monday that described DeVries landing as an "extraordinary flight achievement."

The Air Force's Distinguished Flying Cross, which was first awarded in 1927, is awarded for "heroism or extraordinary achievement," Barrett said, telling DeVries that he "will join the ranks of some other American heroes."

On June 20, 2017, DeVries, then a captain, flew a training flight from Selfridge out to the Grayling Air Gunnery Range, where he and a few other A-10 pilots were to drop dummy bombs and then practice strafing.

During a strafing run at about 375 mph and roughly 150 feet off the ground, the powerful 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger rotary cannon on his aircraft unexpectedly failed, triggering an explosion that blew the cockpit canopy off. The wind slammed DeVries' head into his seat.

"It was like someone sucker punched me," he recalled in a previous 127th Wing statement. "I was just dazed for a moment."

After the initial shock, DeVries gathered himself, pulled back on the stick, and climbed to a safer altitude of 2,000 feet.

Aware that something had gone wrong with DeVries' plane, his wingman, then-Maj. Shannon Vickers, flew underneath DeVries' A-10 to conduct a damage assessment. DeVries had no idea if his ejection seat even still worked, and during a test of the landing gear, DeVries and Vickers discovered that the nose gear was damaged.

"Landing a plane with the gear down is good. Landing with it up is not ideal," the 127th Wing said in a 2017 account of DeVries' experiences. "Landing with some of it up and some of it down, well, those stories seldom end well."

DeVries opted for a belly landing with landing gear up as Vickers guiding him in. The 127th Wing characterized his landing at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center as a "near textbook landing."

The aircraft was heavily damaged but repairable, and everyone walked away largely unharmed.

Air Force Secretary Barrett praised DeVries last Friday, saying that"with deft expertise, then-Captain DeVries flew 25 minutes and, unable to lower the landing gear due to the damage, performed a wheels-up emergency landing — saving the aircraft and walking away with only minor injuries."

The 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 landing gear up, the Air Force said in a 2017 statement.

"DeVries truly put service before self and demonstrated a level of airmanship to which we should all aspire," Brig. Gen. Rolf Mammen, 127th Wing commander, said Friday.

At the time of the incident, DeVries had flown 119 combat missions overseas and hundreds of training flights over Grayling. "In that moment, your training kicks in. The training – that's what saves you and your wingman," he said afterwards.

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