An A-10 pilot with the Michigan Air National Guard received the Distinguished Flying Cross on Nov. 5 for dramatically guiding his Warthog to a belly landing in 2017 after a catastrophic gun malfunction blew the aircraft’s canopy off and prevented the landing gear from functioning properly.
Maj. Brett DeVries, then a captain with the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., was flying a training flight on July 20, 2017, when the aircraft’s GAU-8 Avenger cannon malfunctioned, sending a “donut of gas” through the aircraft, blowing off the canopy while flying at 325 knots. The malfunction caused other systems to fail, slamming DeVries’ head against his seat. He was able to gather himself and, with mission-planning papers flying out of his cockpit, made contact with his wingman and maintainers back at Selfridge.
The team decided to fly to nearby Alpena airfield, situated about 250 miles south of the base. DeVries ducked behind the canopy to avoid the wind to try to make an approach to the airfield. When he attempted to lower the landing gear, it got stuck. Maj. Shannon Vickers radioed him to try to retreat the gear, thinking a belly landing would be better than one with partially protruding landing gear.
Vickers flew on DeVries’ wing, guiding him in to a belly landing at Alpena. Video shows the A-10 without a canopy gliding down to a smooth belly landing, and skidding to a stop on the flightline.
DeVries, a senior pilot, has more than 2,000 flight hours, including 830 in combat. Brig. Gen. Rolf E. Mammen, commander of the 127th Wing, said during the award ceremony that DeVries “demonstrated a level of Airmanship to which we should all aspire.”
“As a commander, I cannot tell you how proud I am of Major DeVries and our entire 127th Wing, who work so hard every day to ensure that we are ready to fly, fight, and win,” he said in a 127th Wing release.
Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett presented the award, saying it is the oldest military aviation decoration “awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement that is ‘entirely distinctive, involving operations that are not routine.’ Today, Major DeVries, you will join the ranks of some other American heroes.”