Instructor Pilot Recognized For One-Wing Landing
Major Douglas Witmer, flying on exchange with the Argentine air force, was recognized at the Pentagon this month for safely returning to the ground an AT-63 Pampa II aircraft (and his student) after losing “80 percent of his left wing” to a midair. Witmer was flying as part of a six-plane demonstration formation on Aug. 10, 2012, at the Centennial Celebration of Argentine School of Aviation, Cordoba, when another aircraft turned aggressively, making contact with Witmer’s aircraft as the formation flew near a large crowd. For his actions that followed, the Air Force has awarded Witmer its 2013 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy. The citation for the award may better describe Witmer’s work in the cockpit that day.
The impact removed a large portion of his Pampa’s left wing and rendered useless “several key controls,” according to the Air Force. According to the citation, “Major Witmer’s quick thinking under extreme duress and his successful management of an unfamiliar language, aircraft and field, saved a valuable aircraft, two pilots and potentially hundreds of spectators.” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, who spoke at the presentation ceremony, said of Witmer, “He has 3,000 flying hours — one of them is in an aircraft with one wing.” The Koren Kooligian Jr. Trophy has been awarded annually for the past 55 years. It is presented to an airman who exhibits outstanding airmanship through extraordinary skill, alertness, ingenuity or proficiency in averting or minimizing the seriousness of a flight mishap, according to Air Force News. Witmer is credited with keeping calm, ascertaining that the aircraft was damaged but airworthy, avoiding ejection, diverting away from spectators and negotiating a safe landing at a nearby airport with a longer runway and greater rescue facilities.