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Meet The Heroic Aircrew Behind That Fiery B-1B Lancer Emergency Landing

Jared Keller Avatar

The Air Force on Friday formally recognized the actions of the B-1B Lancer bomber aircrew that saved both themselves and their aircraft amid a fiery emergency landing in May, officials announced on Saturday.

Gen. Robin Rand, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross to five airmen from the 28th Bomb Squadron for their “heroism and extraordinary aerial achievement” in landing their aircraft amid both an engine fire and ejection seat failure, a feat that constituted the “first-ever successful landing of a B-1B experiencing such malfunctions,” according to Dyess Air Force Base.

  • The airmen are: Maj. Christopher N. Duhon, the chief of future operations at Air Forces Strategic – Operations Division at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and the 28th instructor pilot at the time; 28th weapon systems officer instructor Capt. Matthew Sutton; student pilot 1st Lt. Joseph Welch; and 28th student weapon systems officer 1st Lt. Thomas C. Ahearn, who Air Force officials said has since completed his training and is currently assigned to the 37th Bomb Squadron out of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

The 28th Bomb Squadron aircrew responsible for the successful landing of a B-1B Lancer bomber following a major engine problem on May 1, 2018

  • The aircrew was forced to make an emergency landing at Midland International Air Space Port in Texas on May 1st after an indicator light alerted them to a fire aboard the long-range strategic bomber, and the weapons systems officer’s seat failed to release during the subsequent ejection sequence. It is unclear whether that weapons system officer was Capt. Sutton or 1st Lt. Ahearn.
  • “The cover comes off, and nothing else happens. The seat doesn’t fire,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson confirmed in June, referring to the ejection hatch. “Within two seconds of knowing that that had happened, the aircraft commander” — in this case, Duhon — “says, ‘Cease ejection, we’ll try to land.’”

A Rockwell B-1B Lancer sits after making an emergency landing at Midland International Air and Space Port, Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in Midland, Texas.Jacob Ford/Odessa American/Associated Press

  • The incident forced the Air Force to ground its B-1B fleet for a two-week safety stand-down. On June 19, AFGSC announced that flight operations had resumed, stating that the command had “high confidence that the fleet’s egress systems are capable and the fleet is ready to return to normal flight operations.”

Bravo, airmen, and well deserved.