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F-16 pilot receives Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy

June 6, 2007 (by SSgt. J.G. Buzanowski) - Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John D. W. Corley presented the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy, one of the service's top safety awards, to a fighter pilot during a ceremony June 5 in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.

USAF F-16A block 10 #79-0373 is preserved at Buckley AB with a beautiful rainbow behind it on September 30th, 2004. [USAF photo by SMSgt. Annadele Kenderes]

Assisting in the presentation was Koren Kolligian, nephew of the trophy's namesake.

The award recipient, Lt. Col. Peter Byrne, was honored for an incident last June in which he had a stroke while flying an F-16 Fighting Falcon out of Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Colonel Byrne kept his jet aloft for another 90 minutes before returning to Buckley.

"Living through a stroke with immediate care is tough enough," General Corley said of the Air National Guardsman. "To do it while flying an F-16 is superhuman."

The Kolligian Trophy is awarded annually for "outstanding feats of Airmanship by aircrew members who by extraordinary skill, exceptional alertness, ingenuity or proficiency, averted accidents or minimized the seriousness of accidents in terms of injury, loss of life, aircraft damage or property damage."

Colonel Byrne's decisive actions and ability to cope with the traumatic event prevented a potentially catastrophic mishap. While engaged in tactical combat maneuvers, he felt a pinching in his neck, what would later be diagnosed as the dissection of his vertebral artery.

"I could barely move my arms or hands," said Colonel Byrne, 140th Wing vice commander. "It took every bit of concentration I had just to get the autopilot on."

Fighting vertigo, pain and nausea, Colonel Byrne said his primary concern was avoiding populated areas in case he had to eject. His wingmen quickly came to his aid and flew with him for the next hour and a half, helping him stay focused.

With fuel running low, Colonel Byrne's symptoms eased enough for him to coax the F-16 back to Buckley for a perfect landing.

"By some miracle, I was able to land," Colonel Byrne said. "I credit my survival in the air to my wingmen and I credit my survival on the ground to the discipline and efforts of the crews on the ground. They saved my life. It's truly an honor to receive this award."

The trophy is named after 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., a pilot whose T-33 Shooting Star went missing off the California coast in 1955.

Last year, the Kolligian Trophy was presented to Capt. Steven Edwards, an MH-53 helicopter pilot. Despite his wounds and in a helicopter crippled by enemy fire, he safely flew his aircraft and crew home from Iraq.