Military aircraft go through vigorous inspections, daily, to ensure air crew safety, but what happens when an aircraft experiences malfunctions during flight? One D-M Airmen was faced with this situation.
Captain Brandon Liabenow, 354th Fighter Squadron pilot, was recently recognized for his actions during a mission to bring an A-10 Warthog to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group.
“We were doing a tail swap,” said Liabenow. “So we took four good A-10’s to Osan Air Force Base, Korea and we were bringing four A-10’s back to the boneyard for retirement.”
The troubles began when Liabenow was over the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway through his flight. While flying from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to D-M, Liabenow began to experience technical difficulties and was only receiving hot air through the air vents in the cockpit.
After several minutes the heat intensified and became unbearable. Liabenow then tried to control the temperature through manual adjustments to no avail. He then realized that he had to turn off the main air supply in order to stop the flow of hot air.
“It got to the point where all the metal objects in the cockpit were too hot to touch,” Liabenow said. “Even with my gloves on I could feel the heat radiating through the stick as I was flying.”
By turning off the main air supply Liabenow was depressurizing the cockpit along with his external fuel tanks. A quick calculation revealed that he would not be able to reach his divert base without external fuel if they lost tanker support.
“Once I turned off the main air supply I wasn’t able to access the external fuel tanks, and without the tanker I wouldn’t have been able to make it to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California,” said Liabenow.
He then coordinated a decent to 15,000 feet and diverted to Vandenberg.
After completing the “Cockpit Over Temperature” checklist, which had Liabenow turn the main air supply back on, he was able to determine that he could handle about 15 minutes of heat before having to shut it off again. This would prove to be important should he need to use the external fuel tanks.
Liabenow was able to successfully reach his divert base and recover the aircraft by turning the main air supply off and on. Once grounded, it was discovered that the bleed air valve was jammed and was forcing hot engine air directly into the cockpit.
“Liabenow’s quick thinking, systems knowledge, and physical endurance directly resulted in the prevention of injury, or loss of life, and the preservation of a $12 million combat asset,” Said Capt. Dale Stark, 354th Fighter Squadron flight safety. “Superior airmanship!”