Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Browning, Lt. Cmdr. Kellen Smith and Lt. Matthew Halliwell were presented the award for reacting in time to prevent the loss of an E-2C aircraft during a March mishap on the USS Eisenhower.

The Navy awarded the Armed Forces’ Air Medal yesterday to the three E-2C pilots from the VAW-123 Screwtops for a 18 March 2016 incident.

During a day approach to the USS Eisenhower, the E-2C Hawkeye successfully engaged the #4 arresting wire. The #4 arresting gear engine (AGE) did not decelerate the aircraft on rollout, resulting in the arresting wire breaking.

Subsequently, the Hawkeye continued forward over the angled flight deck of the carrier. The aircrew was able to maintain positive control of the aircraft at an extremely slow speed and keep flying.

A Judge Advocate General report on the incident found there was a lack of procedural compliance from maintenance personnel when troubleshooting the AGE prior to the aircraft’s attempted arrestment. The report noted one or two critical steps were missed because of unclear procedures. However, the report also said there was no willful dereliction of duty by the maintenance personnel.

“It all happened in about eight seconds,” said Smith, who has been flying for 12 years.

“While we were decelerating we heard a loud snap. When we would normally be coming to a stop, we weren’t. Our years of training kicked in and we reacted on instinct.

I slapped back the ditching hatch (there are no ejection seats for the E-2) as we cleared the deck and began a deep settle (significant descent). I would guess we were about 10 feet from the water before we lifted back up, but Lt. Halliwell expertly kept us climbing away.

It was a sigh of relief when we were back in the air. It helps to know that at the critical moment, all we practice for this scenario actually works. The experience has made me much more confident in my training.”

The video below shows the harrowing incident. It is also a testament to the training of the Naval Aviators flying the aircraft. The aircraft procedures were followed to a “T” and the ability to control an extremely large aircraft at such as slow speed is remarkable.

The JAG report stated “phenomenal airmanship by the E-2 mishap  aircrew prevented any casualties among the aircrew and the loss of the aircraft”.

Unfortunately, the incident injured 8 sailors on the flight deck. The snapped cable created a variety of injuries, including a fractured ankle, wrist, pelvis and legs. The aircraft returned to Chambers Field, Naval Station Norfolk, VA without  further incident. However, Smith noted the aircrew’s thoughts were with those injured on the flight back.

“The flight back to Norfolk afterwards was long,” Smith said. “Once we realized the plane was fine, we started to think about the people back on the ship. The Screwtops are a tight-knit family and the pilots are close to our maintainers. We knew some had been hurt and it was a relief to learn those injured were being taken care of.”

Sailors participate in the cross deck pendant swap during flight deck Olympics aboard the aircraft carrier (US Navy)
Sailors perform a cross deck pendant swap (US Navy)

The USS Eisenhower and VAW-123 Screwtops are currently on deployment to the 5th Fleet area of operations.

You can read the Navy press release by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Liam Antinori, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69)(Ike) here.

Top Photo: E-2C-11 Hawkeye 165297 AB-601 from VAW-123 ‘Screwtops’ NAS Norfolk, VA (