MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
“I was sitting in the boom operator station in the cockpit,” said Airman 1st Class Hannah Clarke, 349th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. “Everything was normal until we rotated and I heard the pilots call out the high exhaust gas temperature. I went to look and saw the high EGT in the upper 900’s while climbing.”
High exhaust gas temperatures are expected to raise to 880 degrees Celsius at the highest during deployments in the desert, and on a late afternoon on June 7 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, the crew of Python 62 were challenged to act quickly as a team. A high EGT could cause damage, a fire and a shut down of an engine.
“Anything above [880 degrees] and the crew starts to worry,” said Clarke. “Never imagined we’d have an EGT of 1070.”
The initial EGT of 1070 degrees was recognized by Capt. Michael Gargano, 349th ARS KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft commander. He notified Capt. Garret Dean, 350th ARS KC-135 pilot, who was in control of the aircraft during takeoff.
“Shortly after takeoff, the number one engine, the left most engine, indicated a severe over heated condition requiring it to be shut down,” said Gargano. “[This] created large asymmetric aerodynamic forces on the aircraft and reduced available thrust during one of the most critical phases of flight.”
Gargano explained that Clarke was involved within the first seconds of the in-flight emergency.
“We continued climbing and once we got to a safe altitude they shut down the number one [engine],” said Clarke. “I volunteered to go back and examine the engine for any indications of smoke or abnormalities.”
The crew of Python 62 made a request to dump fuel from the KC-135 to bring it to a safe landing weight, while in flight with three engines.
“Due to the combat fuel weight of the aircraft, after securing the engine and completing checklists, the crew was forced to dump fuel,” said Gargano. “It was to get the aircraft light enough to land, and it required additional checklists and crew coordination.”
Clarke said she headed towards the back of the KC-135 and laid in the boom seat to ensure the fuel was being released properly through the boom nozzle. After the flow of fuel was stopped, the KC-135’s weight was adjusted to just under 225,000 pounds. This allowed the aircrew to adjust the aircrafts gross weight for safe landing. Each crewmember had an important task during the in-flight emergency.
Capt. Jonathan Stevens, 350th ARS navigator, served as a communicator during the emergency and ensured all procedures and checklists were completed.
Clarke explained that it is important to be a proactive crewmember.
“While the pilot team was tasked with flying the aircraft and executing checklists, [A1C Clarke] actively took charge of her responsibilities and visually checked the engine from the cargo compartment, ensuring no visible damage or fire was present,” said Gargano. “She knew her responsibilities and did not have to wait to be told to execute those actions. Without her calm and collected response, she could have easily turned into a distraction for the rest of the crew, making a bad situation potentially worse.”
The aircrew’s quick communication and response to the emergency allowed Gargano to successfully land at Al Udeid AB while using three engines.
“Despite the [desert] heat and the stress that came with it, the entire crew worked seamlessly together, displaying textbook crew resource management,” continued Gargano. “Everyone on board did an outstanding job mitigating the emergency and safely recovering the aircraft.”
The crew of Python 62 were able to work as a team to safely land without any harm to themselves or the $52 million aircraft.
“Safety and emergency procedure training begins day one at pilot, navigator and boom operator training,” said Gargano. “In addition to the numerous emergency situations, we practice in our simulator and in the aircraft on training missions, regular conversation with other aircrew about lessons learned on flights and specific table-top emergency procedure discussions all help to grow experience across the fleet.”