It was 10:30 p.m. Sept. 1, 2011, and four jets were preparing to land at Luke Air Force Base, when the first jet experienced mechanical problems and abruptly stopped in the middle of the runway.
The split-second decision making of Senior Airman Shawn Hanger, 56th Operations Support Squadron Air Field Operations Flight air traffic controller, prevented a potential collision and resulted in him being awarded the Gordon A. Blake Aircraft Save Award.
â€œWhen the first aircraft landed, I noticed he abruptly stopped,â€ Hanger said. â€œI didnâ€™t hesitate to radio the pilot and ask him if he had a problem.â€
Hanger explained that normally a pilot would radio the tower to report problems, but Hanger saw what was about to happen before anyone else.
The second aircraft had already landed behind the first aircraft, but it only took Hanger 1.7 seconds to react and tell the third and fourth aircraft to stay in the air. He then queried the pilot of the second aircraft to see if he could safely pass the disabled aircraft.
â€œThe actions of Airman Hanger were critical during this potentially disastrous scenario,â€ said Maj. Spencer Godwin, 56th Operations Support Squadron chief of training. â€œDue to darkness and lack of visual cues and depth perception, it is unlikely anyone else would have seen the problem before it was too late and all the jets would have landed.â€
Airman Hanger attributes his quick reactions to extensive training and good supervision.
â€œI had a good trainer and he always encouraged me to learn to do things on my own,â€ Hanger said. â€œHonestly, when it happened my instincts kicked in, and I felt like I was just doing my job.â€
For an air traffic controller at Luke, doing the job means directing more than 350 aircraft every day. However, the pilots and Airman Hangarâ€™s leadership recognized that his actions were truly above and beyond the abilities of most junior controllers.
As a result, he was submitted and selected to receive the aircraft save award, which recognizes actions of airfield operations personnel that result in the safe recovery of an imperiled airborne aircraft or help given to an endangered aircraft on the ground. AFI 36-2807 specifies that the performance must clearly extend beyond normal duty requirements, be professional and cast no reasonable doubt that, without this action, probable damage would have resulted.
â€œI know there are a lot of controllers who work hard every day just like I do, and it feels good to get acknowledged,â€ Hanger said. â€œI didnâ€™t expect to win an award, but itâ€™s definitely a bonus. I was completely surprised when they announced it at the wing commanderâ€™s call.â€