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Capt. Taylor Bye poses with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., May 11, 2022. Bye was awarded the 2020 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy to recognize her outstanding airmanship when her A-10C attack aircraft suffered a catastrophic gun malfunction. She performed a belly landing with the loss of the landing gear and canopy.

Capt. Taylor Bye poses with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., May 11, 2022. Bye was awarded the 2020 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy to recognize her outstanding airmanship when her A-10C attack aircraft suffered a catastrophic gun malfunction. She performed a belly landing with the loss of the landing gear and canopy. (Eric R. Dietrich/U.S. Air Force)

Capt. Taylor Bye kept her composure as her A-10C Thunderbolt II fell apart midflight during a routine sortie two years ago in Georgia, pulling off a “wheels up” belly landing without a cockpit canopy as punishing winds blew in her face.

In recognition of the feat, Bye was presented Wednesday with the 2020 Koren Kolligian Jr. trophy at a Pentagon ceremony, becoming the first female recipient of the award since its creation in 1957, the Air Force said in a statement Thursday.

“The day she landed with 66% of her landing gear and wind in her hair is one she’ll never forget,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. said in his presentation of the award, applauding Bye’s “exemplary performance.”

Named for 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., an Air Force pilot declared missing when his plane disappeared off the California coast in 1955, the trophy recognizes crew members who avert or minimize the seriousness of injury or property damage in an aircraft mishap, according to the Air Force.

Air Force Capt. Taylor Bye lands an A-10C Thunderbolt II, tail-995 at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Nov. 3, 2021. Bye landed her first flight in the aircraft since its restorations from a crash-landing in April 2020. She was awarded the 2020 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr., at the Pentagon, May 11, 2022.

Air Force Capt. Taylor Bye lands an A-10C Thunderbolt II, tail-995 at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Nov. 3, 2021. Bye landed her first flight in the aircraft since its restorations from a crash-landing in April 2020. She was awarded the 2020 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr., at the Pentagon, May 11, 2022. (Briana Beavers/U.S. Air Force)

A screenshot from a U.S. Air Force video shows the A-10C that Capt. Taylor Bye belly-landed in April 2020, after a malfunction stopped the landing gear from deploying and ripped the canopy off. For her skill in landing the crippled jet, Bye was awarded the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy at the Pentagon, May 11, 2022. The plane has since been restored and is being flown again.

A screenshot from a U.S. Air Force video shows the A-10C that Capt. Taylor Bye belly-landed in April 2020, after a malfunction stopped the landing gear from deploying and ripped the canopy off. For her skill in landing the crippled jet, Bye was awarded the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy at the Pentagon, May 11, 2022. The plane has since been restored and is being flown again. (Devin Boyer/U.S. Air Force)

Bye’s flight commander at the time of the crash noted the rarity of the plane failure she experienced, according to the Air Force. That meant there was no complete emergency checklist for her to follow.

Bye’s A-10 began dismantling while she was preparing for a strafing run during an April 2020 training mission over Georgia at Moody Air Force Base’s Grand Bay Range, according to the service.

Her repeated attempts to fire the plane’s Gatling gun met with severe failures, the Air Force said in a statement last year. Her landing gear retracted, panels flew off and her canopy jettisoned. The jet’s two engines and hydraulic systems continued to work.

“We don’t necessarily train for this, but the spilt-second decision I made was my body’s natural response,” Bye said in the Air Force statement.

Capt. Taylor Bye and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. sing the Air Force song during a ceremony at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., May 11, 2022. Bye was awarded the 2020 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy to recognize her outstanding airmanship when her A-10C attack aircraft suffered a catastrophic gun malfunction and she performed a belly landing with the loss of the landing gear and canopy.

Capt. Taylor Bye and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. sing the Air Force song during a ceremony at the Pentagon, Arlington, Va., May 11, 2022. Bye was awarded the 2020 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy to recognize her outstanding airmanship when her A-10C attack aircraft suffered a catastrophic gun malfunction and she performed a belly landing with the loss of the landing gear and canopy. (Eric R. Dietrich/U.S. Air Force)

She said that when her canopy flew off, her instinct was to “survive,” according to the statement. She maxed out the Warthog’s throttles, pitching the aircraft nose up and lowering her seat to reduce the wind blast. The lowered seat made it difficult to see the runway.

“I thought, ‘Where’s the ground, where’s the ground?’ I was holding my breath at that point,” Bye said in a statement last year.

She escaped the crash without injury. The Air Force investigation report into the cause of the crash was not available Friday.

The ceremonies for both the 2019 and 2020 recipients were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 ceremony was held in December 2021.

At the ceremony, Bye thanked her wingman, Maj. Jack Ingber, also a Moody A-10 pilot, for his assistance during the emergency. He helped her visually assess the aircraft’s damage as she went in to land.

“This whole experience has challenged me in many ways, but to be recognized with this honor is something I will never forget,” Bye said at the ceremony, according to the Air Force.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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