B-52 bomber crew picks up award for pulling their plane out of life-threatening 'catastrophic' failures at 1,200 feet

  • A B-52 bomber crew received an award for fighting through "catastrophic" aircraft failures.

  • The crew faced a string of problems while flying to Barksdale Air Force Base.

  • Air Force Global Strike Command gave the bomber crew the General Curtis E. LeMay Award.

A US Air Force B-52 bomber crew received an award for pulling off an exceptional recovery during a life-threatening emergency.

"All the systems kicked off at once, and the aircraft went completely dark, engines flamed out, and controlling the aircraft became a battle," Capt. Matthew Walls, one of three aircrew members aboard the B-52H Stratofortress bomber at the time, described in a Thursday press release.

As the heavy bomber's crew was navigating around severe thunderstorms on their way to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on December 13, 2022, the aircraft, Scout 94 went into an uncontrolled roll.

Two of the plane's electrical generators were off, four of the bomber's engines gave out, and the aircraft was descending quickly while decelerating below normal approach speed.

Walls recalled that the emergency, which happened as they were making preparations to land the plane, "was sudden and caused brief but extreme disorientation to myself and the other crew members."

Capt. Charles Powell, 11th Bomb Squadron director of staff, Lt. Col. John Conway, Air Combat Command TRSS Detachment 13 commander, and Capt. Matthew Walls, 343 Bomb Squadron unit deployment manager, stand for their photo in front of a B-52H Stratofortress June 3, 2024 at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. They recently earned the Air Force Global Strike Command General Curtis E. LeMay award for the outstanding bomber crew category for overcoming multiple failures during a flight, but still managing to land the aircraft safely.

Capt. Charles Powell attempted to restart the engines and managed to bring back two of the four that had given out.

Lt. Col. John Conway, another crew member, said "the reason Captain Powell was able to recover the aircraft safely is because he has trained to a six-engine approach many times and holds himself to a high standard when he trains."

He added that "Capt. Powell and Capt. Walls both performed admirably and with immense poise that day."

The bomber lost its engines on one side. Shortly after the two engines restarted, the crew was able to make an unusual turn back against the roll, declare an emergency, and achieve a safe landing with assistance from air traffic control.

The crew's actions were significant, as they successfully recovered the unwieldy aircraft at a low altitude of just 1,200 feet while flying over a populated area in Bossier City.

"The Scout 94 crew overcame multiple catastrophic failures to safely land the aircraft, averting potential disaster in the air and on the ground," the Air Force said.

During the 2023 Air Force Global Strike Command Operations Awards, the B-52 crew received the Air Force Global Strike Command General Curtis E. LeMay Award in the outstanding bomber crew category.

"I'm very proud of how we handled the situation," Walls said of the emergency that lasted only minutes but required a quick response. "It was fast and intense, and there wasn't time for discussion, just action. In my opinion, everyone fell into their role and did what was required."

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