A major assigned to the 355th Operations Group here was presented the Pilot Safety Award of Distinction for the 355th Fighter Wing and 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) May 25.
Maj. Matthew Kaercher, 355th OG A-10 pilot, earned this distinction for emergency actions taken during a training flight May 21.
“We were out flying training sorties at the Barry Goldwater Range,” Kaercher said. “We had already made a couple passes and shot some targets. We were coming in for our final maneuvers, when the ranger noticed the problem.”
Toward the end of the exercise, Kaercher received a “knock it off” call from the ranger. A ranger is an individual who sits in the tower to observe the training maneuvers and give out final scores.
“Saying ‘knock it off’ during maneuvers is like saying a curse word in church,” Kaercher said. “Everyone immediately stops what they are doing and pays attention.”
The ranger halted the mission because he noticed a plume coming from the back of Kaercher’s aircraft.
“I spun around as much as I could in the cockpit, and I saw this big column of white smoke, or something, coming off the left side of my aircraft,” Kaercher said. “I immediately checked all of the gauges on my aircraft to try and figure out what was leaking. I wasn’t overheating. The engine fire lights were not illuminated; there were essentially no indicators as to what was wrong.”
Finally, the aircraft alerted Kaercher to the problem.
“It was probably about 30 seconds between the time the ranger called “knock it off” and the time I got my first indicator, which was a hydraulic reservoir light,” he said.
A-10 aircraft have two hydraulics systems, and each has a hydraulic fluid reservoir. When they start to drain out and get to a certain level, the reservoir light comes on.
Identifying the problem brought a sense of relief.
“The worst part for me was not knowing where the malfunction was coming from,” Kaercher said. “Once I identified my problem, training kicked in and I had steps to hang my hat on.”
After losing its hydraulic fluid, Kaercher’s A-10 did not have all of its capabilities.
“I had to land at another exercise range, Gila Bend, which is about 25 miles from the Barry Goldwater Range,” Kaercher said. “The hydraulic fluid that was leaking controls a number of things on the aircraft, one of which is an augmentation system that keeps the aircraft steady. So without that, I was coming in jerky.”
Another A-10 component that runs off of hydraulic fluid are the speed brakes, which allow the aircraft to make quick stops. This is ideal for landing on short runways.
“I couldn’t deploy my speed breaks, so I had to configure for an emergency approach,” Kaercher said. The runway I landed on was about 8,000 feet, and I almost didn’t have enough room. I ended up locking out the breaks, but I finally got it to stop right before I ran out of space.”
Kaercher was presented the award at a commander’s call attended by fellow squadron members.
“It’s really nice to be recognized,” Kaercher said. “I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t think I went too far out of the realm of my responsibilities as the pilot in a single seat cockpit.”