How to land a white-hot aircraft

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Josh Slavin
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
How can you pilot an aircraft when all the metal surfaces in the cockpit are too hot to touch?

Capt. Brandon Liabenow, a 354th Fighter Squadron pilot at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., was recently recognized for finding the answer to that question the hard way during a mission to bring an A-10 Thunderbolt II to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group.

"We were doing a tail swap," Liabenow said. "So we took four good A-10s to Osan Air Force Base, Korea, and we were bringing four A-10s back to the boneyard for retirement."

The troubles began over the Pacific Ocean, when Liabenow was roughly halfway through his flight. While flying from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, to D-M, Liabenow began to experience technical difficulties and was only receiving hot air through the air vents in the cockpit.

After several minutes, the heat intensified and became unbearable. Liabenow then tried to control the temperature through manual adjustments, to no avail. He then realized that he had to turn off the main air supply in order to stop the flow of hot air.

"It got to the point where all the metal objects in the cockpit were too hot to touch," Liabenow said. "Even with my gloves on, I could feel the heat radiating through the stick as I was flying."

By turning off the main air supply, Liabenow was depressurizing the cockpit along with his external fuel tanks. A quick calculation revealed that he would not be able to reach his divert base without tanker support.

"Once I turned off the main air supply, I wasn't able to access the external fuel tanks and without the tanker, I wouldn't have been able to make it to Vandenberg Air Force Base," Liabenow said.

He then coordinated a descent to 15,000 feet and diverted to Vandenberg, Calif.

After completing the "Cockpit Over Temperature" checklist, which had Liabenow turn the main air supply back on, he determined that he could handle about 15 minutes of heat before having to shut it off again. This would prove to be important, should he need to use the external fuel tanks.

Liabenow was able to successfully reach Vandenberg and recover the aircraft by turning the main air supply off and on repeatedly during flight. Once grounded, it was discovered that the bleed air valve was jammed and was forcing hot engine air directly into the cockpit.

Capt. Dale Stark, 354th Fighter Squadron flight safety, said the pilot's actions showed superior airmanship.

"Liabenow's quick thinking, systems knowledge and physical endurance directly resulted in the prevention of injury, or loss of life, and the preservation of a $12 million combat asset," Stark said.