An A-10 pilot with the Michigan Air National Guard was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on Friday for “extraordinary achievement” during a 2017 training flight in which his landing gear failed and his canopy tore off.
Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett awarded the medal to Maj. Brett DeVries at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, saying the pilot will “join the ranks of other American heroes.” DeVries is a member of the 107th Fighter Squadron.
On July 20, 2017, then-Capt. DeVries was flying on a routine training mission at the Grayling Air Gunnery Range when his wingman, Maj. Shannon Vickers, reported seeing a “donut of gas” around the cockpit after DeVries fired the A-10’s 30mm cannon. The cannon malfunctioned moments later and the canopy ripped off.
With the canopy gone from the aircraft now flying at 325 knots just 150 feet off the ground, according to an official Air Force account, DeVries’ head was thrown back into his seat before he instinctively pulled back on the stick to gain some altitude.
“It was like someone sucker punched me,” DeVries said. “I was just dazed for a moment.”
DeVries lowered his seat to escape the brunt of wind gusts, though most of his maps and checklists were blowing all around the cockpit.
“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 recalled.
After DeVries got the aircraft under control, Vickers flew under the aircraft for a visual inspection and found the gun malfunction had blown several covers off the bottom of the A-10. They were unsure whether the landing gear was affected until lining up to land.
From the official Air Force account:
DeVries reached forward and grabbed the lever affixed with a clear plastic stroller wheel in the cockpit of his damaged bird. He pushed it down. And the gear started to come down, but, as they feared, the nose gear was hung up from the gun damage.
Quickly, Vickers shouted into the radio – “Gear up!” Fortunately, the gear all returned to the up position.
“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.
And so, with gear up and the canopy off DeVries lined it up for a landing.
“As he made final approach, I felt confident he was making the right decision,” Vickers said. “We had talked through every possibility and now he was going to land it.”
DeVries then attempted a dramatic wheels-up landing on the aircraft’s belly, eventually making a slow descent and landing safely. The aircraft was deemed repairable.
“I flew him down, calling out his altitude,” Vickers recalled. “He came in flat, I mean it was a very smooth landing.”
The Distinguished Flying Cross can be awarded to any officer or enlisted person in the military for “heroism or extraordinary achievement” while participating in aerial flight.
“Major DeVries truly put service before self and demonstrated a level of Airmanship to which we should all aspire,” Brig. Gen. Rolf E. Mammen, 127th Wing commander, said during the award ceremony.
In April, an A-10 pilot at Moody Air Force Base made a similar belly landing during a training mission. The pilot was uninjured.