Quick thinking and good communication not only saved a $13 million aircraft and its pilot, it also averted a possible tragedy close to Hill Air Force Base.
On Jan. 10, 2014, Lt. Col. James “G-Man” Doyle, an Air Force Reserve pilot with the 514th Flight Test Squadron, was taking off on a functional test flight on an A-10C Thunderbolt when he realized something was wrong.
“Right as the landing gear was sucked up into the airplane, it created a kind of ‘thunk’ or a ‘thud,’ ” he recalled. “That’s when the right engine stopped working.”
Doyle was about 50 feet off the ground and hadn’t even reached the end of the runway.
“With the A-10, it’s kind of a big deal,” he said. “First of all, because of the way the engines are turning, the right engine creates about 100 pounds more pressure in the rudder pedals. Second, since the A-10 doesn’t have all that much thrust in the first place, when one of the engines fails that close to the ground, it’s a pretty significant event.”
Unlike being in a car that can slowly be guided to the side of the road when the engine fails, Doyle was too far into the flight to simply guide the plane back down onto the runway. He had to circle around the base with only one engine turning, and communicate by radio with flight control and the 514th supervisor of flying, Maj. Ryan Richardson.
With Richardson’s help, Doyle followed standard emergency procedures by going through three checklists before safely landing back on Hill’s runway, all in 10 minutes. Doyle said he was most concerned that the aircraft was so close to the ground when the engine stopped.
“As a fighter pilot, the thought in the back of my mind was, ‘Is the other engine going to go, too? And if it does, where am I going to point this airplane to possibly eject so the airplane will crash into a field?’ A whole lot of things run through your mind when this happens,” he said.
The A-10 was rolled back into the maintenance hangar, and it was determined within an hour that the engine wasn’t receiving fuel because the main fuel line had become disconnected. After the repair, Doyle flew the aircraft again and it had no problems.
For his efforts, Doyle recently received the Air Force Reserve Command Chief of Safety “Pilot of Distinction” award. But this wasn’t the first time he received this honor. He was previously honored for safely landing an A-10 that had an engine fail at 35,000 feet.
Doyle, 41, has flown the A-10 since he was on active duty in 1999. He has been part of the 514th on reserve status since 2006, and has about 2,500 flying hours in the Thunderbolt. When he’s not serving as a reservist, he flies Boeing 757s and 767s as a first officer for Delta Airlines.
The squadron, which flight checks A-10s, F-16s, F-35s, F-22s and C-130s after depot repairs, is well aware that testing aircraft that haven’t been flown for six months or more can be challenging.
Doyle credits his training and years of experience with helping him know what to do during an in-flight emergency.
“It’s just how old airplanes operate — sometimes things fail,” he said.