August 21, 2007 (by SrA John Gordinier) - September 21, 2006, started off as a normal day for 77th Fighter Squadron F-16CJ pilots, Capt. Brian "Snake" Crum and Capt. Julie "Disco" Moore, but the three minutes that followed takeoff would be anything but ordinary.
Capt. Brian Crum, 77th FS F-16 pilot, safely landed his damaged F-16C block 50 #94-0047 three minutes after takeoff Sept. 21, 2006.
After doing the normal preparations to fly paperwork, safety briefings and flight plan, the captains geared up and headed out to their aircraft like they had done many times before.
"We were taking off for a planned, six-hour plus Operation Noble Eagle sortie near Orlando, Fla.," Captain Moore said.
Everything seemed normal prior to departure and all flight checks were 100 percent.
Captain Moore was scheduled to take the flight lead and lifted off the runway 20 seconds prior to Captain Crum.
After taxiing to the runway, Captain Crum pushed the throttle forward.
As the F-16 left the ground, he was informed by the tower that his engine was on fire.
"After being informed about the fire, my heart skipped a beat," said Captain Crum. "Time seemed to slow down and as I look back on it, I can remember every detail that occurred."
Upon hearing the radio call from the tower, Captain Moore executed a turn around to chase and assist Captain Crum.
"About 30 seconds after his takeoff, I was in a chase position and noticed the airfield was on fire from about midfield to the departure end," Captain Moore said. "I could also see that Snake was trailing smoke and that he had not 'punched off' his external fuel tanks."
"When an aircraft is on fire after takeoff with more than 1500 gallons of fuel on board, it is not a good day and you have to make very quick and correct decisions," said Col. Michael Beale, 1st Air Force vice commander and F-16 aviator.
Releasing the fuel tanks can help a damaged aircraft maintain altitude for flight in reduced thrust situations, provides a safer ejection if necessary as well as shortens landing distances, Captain Moore said.
However, dropping the fuel tanks was not an option at the moment because the pilots were flying over a populated area.
"After discussing about where to jettison Snake's tanks, we agreed that I would call out for the exact moment for him to hit the emergency stores jettison button," Captain Moore said. "While flying over an empty field, I called, 'ready', 'ready', 'now.'"
The tanks came off successfully and Captain Moore watched them tumble to the ground with a splash.
"From my cockpit, they appeared to land on either side of a dirt road in an empty field," Captain Moore said. "Then, Snake did an excellent job flying his burning aircraft on perfect parameters to land on the parallel runway and had the aircraft stopped in less than 6,000 feet."
Three minutes after takeoff, Captain Crum had safely landed his damaged aircraft.
"I chased him through his landing and then circled around to help the tower relay the exact position of the jettisoned tanks," Captain Moore said. "Then, I continued on to Orlando, Fla., to complete the O.N.E. mission we were tasked for."
The captains were awarded an Air Medal for their successful efforts.
"We have flown together quite a bit and we have always flown well together," Captain Crum said.
"I think the teamwork we have helped with the situation we faced," Captain Moore said. "However, during such a critical emergency you really fall back on your training and the almost reflexive actions your instructors have instilled in you. Our intense training gave us both the knowledge and confidence needed to handle such an emergency."
"Snake and Disco did a great job working together to save the aircraft and, most importantly, safely avoided populated areas," Colonel Beale said. "I'm proud to work with these great officers and aviators doing the vital job of defending America during O.N.E. missions."