An A-10 pilot with the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge ANGB, Mich., successfully landed his Warthog on its belly with the landing gear retracted under emergency circumstances on July 20.
During a routine training flight, the Gatling gun on Capt. Brett DeVries’ A-10 malfunctioned and sent a “donut of gas” through the airframe, blowing the canopy off the aircraft at a speed of 325 knots and causing a number of other systems to fail. DeVries’ head was slammed back against his seat and “it was like someone sucker punched me,” DeVries told Popular Mechanics. “I was just dazed for a moment.”
With mission-related papers streaming out of the open cockpit, DeVries gathered himself and stayed in contact with his wingman, Maj. Shannon Vickers. Ducking low under the remaining front shield of his canopy to avoid the wind, DeVries used his third-option radio system to brainstorm with Vickers his best landing options. They were concerned that the malfunction would also cause the landing gear to work only partially, making a landing more difficult than with no gear at all.
After conversation with Vickers and a group of A-10 maintainers on the ground, DeVries decided to fly to nearby Alpena airfield, about 250 miles south of Selfridge. He tried to lower the landing gear, but Vickers—flying under DeVries to a proximity of just a few feet—observed the landing gear stick and quickly told him to raise it back up.
Fortunately, DeVries was able to retract the gear fully and attempt an emergency touchdown without landing gear. “As he made final approach, I felt confident he was making the right decision,” Vickers told Popular Mechanics. “We had talked through every possibility and now he was going to land it.”
At the decisive moment, DeVries pulled off a perfect emergency landing. “He came in flat, I mean it was a very smooth landing,” Vickers said.
“Capt. DeVries skills as a pilot were put to the test in this incident,” Brig. Gen. John Slocum, commander of the 127th Wing, told Popular Mechanics. “He demonstrated not only superior skill as a pilot but remained calm in an extremely challenging situation. To walk away from this scenario with no injuries is a true testament to his abilities as a world-class fighter pilot.”
DeVries also received an email of congratulation from Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.