An A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for executing a successful emergency landing without landing gear or canopy.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett presented the award last week to Maj. Brett DeVries, with the 107th Fighter Squadron at Michigan's Selfridge Air National Guard Base. The landing took place in 2017, when DeVries was a captain.
"The Distinguished Flying Cross is ... awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement that is 'entirely distinctive, involving operations that are not routine,'" Barrett said during the Nov. 6 ceremony, according to a service news release. "Today, Maj. DeVries, you will join the ranks of some other American heroes."
On July 20, 2017, DeVries was flying with other A-10 pilots over the Grayling Air Gunnery Range, roughly 200 miles north of Selfridge, to practice dropping dummy bombs and making strafing runs with the aircraft's 30mm GAU-8 Avenger Gatling gun.
During one of the passes, his gun malfunctioned, sending turbulence through the aircraft that blew out the canopy and forcibly knocked DeVries' head back into his seat. It also affected his main radio, which stopped working, along with one of the backup communications, according to a release at the time.
"It was like someone sucker-punched me," he said in the 2017 release. "I was just dazed for a moment."
DeVries instinctively lowered his seat to mitigate the increased wind exposure, but it still caused problems, scattering important documents.
"I was afraid to open up my emergency checklist, because I knew that would just blow away and maybe get sucked into an engine," he said.
Fearing the damage to the plane might have impacted the reliability of his ejection seat, DeVries was skeptical about the success of a forced ejection.
His wingman, Maj. Shannon Vickers, let DeVries make the call on what to do next.
As they flew over Alpena County, which borders Lake Huron in Michigan, they consulted the Alpena control tower, where officials sought advice from maintenance specialists at Selfridge.
Vickers flew under DeVries' plane to assess the damage and check whether his landing gear worked.
As feared, the damage had impacted the landing gear, prompting Vickers to yell "Gear up!" to DeVries on his working backup radio.
Just a few minutes later, DeVries belly-landed at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, which shares a runway with the Alpena County Airport.
It was "believed to be the first time in the roughly 40-year history of the A-10 that a pilot had to land with no canopy and with the landing gear up," according to the 2017 release.
"He came in flat," Vickers said. "I mean it was a very smooth landing."
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.