Air Force awards A-10 pilot for skillfully belly-landing her plane without landing gear after 'catastrophic' failure

  • Capt. Taylor Bye safely landed an A-10 with no canopy and inoperable landing gear last year.

  • She was recently awarded the Air Combat Command Airmanship Award for her skillful flying.

  • A National Guard pilot was awarded after a similar incident in 2017.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The US Air Force awarded one of its pilots for skillfully landing a damaged aircraft without a cockpit canopy or working landing gear after what the service described as a "catastrophic" failure.

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 flying and prevented her landing gear from deploying.

The 23rd Wing at Moody AFB announced on Friday that Bye had received the Air Combat Command Airmanship Award because "she managed to skillfully and safely land her A-10 with minimal damage" despite the challenges she faced in the air.

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
Capt. Taylor Bye on the flight line at Moody Air Force Base on May 5. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Briana Beavers

Bye recalled in an Air Force statement that when things started going wrong, she pulled away from the ground and checked her engines, which were both working. She then slowed down and allow her wingman, Maj. Jack Ingber, to inspect the damaged aircraft.

Ingber said in the statement that it was his "job to think of everything that (Bye) is not because she has a massive handful of an airplane that is falling apart."

After determining what was wrong, Bye had to figure out how to land the plane.

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Bye lowered her seat to shield herself from the wind blowing hard in her face at 350 mph, but that made it difficult to see the runway.

"Where's the ground, where's the ground," Bye recalled thinking, adding, "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."

Lt. Col. Stephen Joca, the 75th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a statement that "what's most important is preventing total loss of the A-10 or even worse, her life." That's exactly what Bye managed to do.

Though such occurrences are rare, they do happen.

a 10 belly landing.JPG
Capt. Brett DeVries with the A-10 he safely landed after a malfunction in 2017. Photo courtesy US Air National Guard

In November, Maj. Brett DeVries, a Michigan Air National Guard A-10 pilot with the "Red Devils," the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a 2017 belly landing without working landing gear or a cockpit canopy.

During a training strafing run at about 375 mph, the 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger rotary cannon on his aircraft unexpectedly failed, triggering an explosion that blew off the canopy, stripped off some of the panels, and damaged the landing gear.

Despite these problems, DeVries got the plane back on the ground safely.

That incident is believed to be the first time in the four-decade history of the A-10 that a pilot landed with no canopy and with the landing gear up, the Air Force said in 2017.

An A-10 sits on the runway after making an emergency landing March 25 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif
An A-10 sits on the runway after making an emergency landing March 25, 2008 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. US Air Force photo/Brad White

An A-10 pilot made an emergency wheels-up landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California during a 2008 training flight, but it still had its cockpit canopy. Like the other two incidents, the pilot walked away unharmed.

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