Pave Hawk crew awarded AFA Outstanding Airmanship award in D.C.
By Staff Sgt. Andrew Hughan, 129th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 07, 2008
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. -- On the night of May 5, 2006, a 129th HH-60G Pave Hawk, call sign Jolly 92, was confronted with an unprecedented in-flight emergency that could have spelled disaster for the aircraft and crew.
The actions of the Pilots Major Tom Keegan and Capt. Matt Redmond, Flight Engineer Tech. Sgt. Trey Hicks and the Door Gunner Senior Airman Sean Pellaton on that night saved the aircraft and themselves, and for their efforts they were awarded the Earl T. Ricks award for Outstanding Airmanship by the Air Force Association July 2007 in Washington, D.C.
Jolly 92 was flying as wingman in a two-ship formation of Pave Hawks over the Central Valley.
The mission was a rescue alert mission conducted as part of an Operational Readiness Exercise. Conditions were turbulent, hazy with no moonlight, making NVG formation utilizing low level tactics and air refueling particularly challenging.
Jolly 92 and their flight lead rendezvoused with an MC-130P to conduct simultaneous aerial-refueling.
The lead Pave Hawk closed on MC-130P's left hose followed by Jolly 92 on the right.
All appeared routine until, within a few feet of the hose, Jolly 92's refueling probe began to oscillate wildly.
Vibration in the cockpit made instrument reading virtually impossible but the pilot was able to halt closure and achieve separation from the MC-130 and the lead Pave Hawk.
Oscillations increased until one of the two heavy probe support brackets failed with a final violent snap.
This last snap jarred the helicopter so severely that the window over the pilot's head shattered sending glass shards into the cockpit and down number two-engine intake.
Separated from the other aircraft, and alerting the other aircraft in the formation, the crew had to assess the damage while enduring gale force winds inside the cockpit from the broken window.
It also quickly became apparent that the bent fuel probe was leaking fuel.
The crew diverted immediately to King City's small, rural civilian airport about fifteen minutes away.
A successful landing was achieved despite concerns of the probe's dangling position and the hail of dirt and gravel propelled into the cockpit by the rotor wash.
An exact cause of the incident has yet to be determined but the aircrafts manufacturer, Sikorsky, has adopted the crew's actions as "Recommended Procedures" in a forthcoming safety supplement for use by Pave Hawk crews worldwide.
Flying a simulated combat mission and in-flight refueling the helicopter from a tanker is a tremendous challenge, and one the crews take on regularly, but when near-disaster strikes these crew members exemplified true professionalism and grace under fire.