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Tanker Team: the Crew of PYTHON 62, 22d Air Refueling Wing, McConnell AFB

By A1C ALAN RICKER, 22d AIR REFUELING WING Public Affairs

“I was sitting in the boom operator station in the cockpit,” said A1C Hannah Clarke, 349th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) boom operator. “Everything was normal until we rotated and I heard the pilots call out the high exhaust gas temperature. I went to look and saw that the high was in the upper 900s while climbing.”

High exhaust gas temperatures (EGTs) are 880 degrees Celsius at the highest during deployments in the desert. Late on the afternoon of June 7 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, the crew of Python 62 had to act quickly as a team. A high EGT could cause damage, a fire, and/or an engine shutdown.

“Anything above 880 degrees and we start to worry,” said Clarke. “We never imagined we’d have an EGT of 1070.”

Capt Michael Gargano, 349 ARS KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft commander, recognized the initial EGT of 1070 degrees. He notified Capt Garret Dean, 350 ARS KC-135 pilot, who was in control of the aircraft during takeoff.

“Shortly after takeoff, the number one engine indicated a severe overheated condition requiring it to be shut down,” said Gargano. “This created large asymmetric aerodynamic forces on the aircraft and reduced available thrust during one of the most critical phases of flight.”

Gargano explained that Clarke was involved within the first seconds of the in-flight emergency.

“We continued climbing and once we got to a safe altitude, they shut down the number one engine,” said Clarke. “I volunteered to go back and examine it for any indications of smoke or abnormalities.”

The crew made a request to dump fuel in flight to bring the plane to a safe landing weight.

“After securing the engine and completing checklists, the crew dumped fuel to get the aircraft light enough to land,” Gargano said. “It required additional checklists and crew coordination.”

Clarke headed toward the back of the KC-135 and ensured fuel was being released properly through the boom nozzle. The resulting weight—just under 225,000 pounds— was safe for landing.

Each crewmember had an important task during the in-flight emergency. Capt Jonathan Stevens, 350 ARS navigator, served as a communicator during the emergency and ensured all procedures and checklists were completed.

“While the pilot team was flying the aircraft and executing checklists, Clarke checked the engine from the cargo compartment, ensuring no visible damage or fire was present,” Gargano continued. “She knew her responsibilities and performed them in a calm, collected manner.”

The aircrew’s quick communication and response to the emergency allowed the team to successfully land at Al Udeid using three engines.

“Despite the desert heat and the stress that came with it, the entire crew worked seamlessly together, displaying textbook crew resource management,” he said. “Everyone on board did an outstanding job mitigating the emergency and safely recovering the aircraft.”

The crew of Python 62 worked as a team to safely land without any harm to themselves or the $52 million aircraft.

“Safety and emergency procedure training begins day one at pilot, navigator, and boom operator training,” concluded Gargano. “In addition to the emergency situations we practice in our simulator and on training missions, regular conversation with other aircrew about lessons learned and specific emergency procedures helps grow experience across the fleet.”