USAF Identifies Heroic B-1B Bomber Crew, Awards Distinguished Flying Crosses

Crew That Saved Burning Bomber Over Texas In May Finally Named, Awarded.

After weeks of speculation about the circumstances surrounding a May 1, 2018 emergency landing in Texas by a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer heavy bomber from the 7th Bomb Wing, Air Force officials have identified the crew who are being hailed as heroes in the miraculous recovery of the crew and aircraft. Four crew members have been awarded the Air Force’s Distinguished Flying Cross, a high-level award for heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight.

The B-1B heavy bomber was on a training mission on May 1, 2018 when a serious engine fire near the right wing root caused the crew to try to eject from their burning bomber over the Texas desert. When the first crew ejection seat failed to leave the plane successfully, the aircraft commander ordered the crew to immediately stop the escape procedure and managed to fly the damaged and burning aircraft with a crew hatch missing and the cockpit open to the surrounding wind blast to the Midland Air and Space Port near Odessa, Texas where the crew made a successful emergency landing.

Last week at Dyess Air Force Base, the Air Force Global Strike Command commander formally recognized the heroism and extraordinary aerial achievement of that B-1B Lancer aircrew. The quick-thinking actions of the aircrew resulted in the first-ever successful emergency landing of a B-1B experiencing this series of serious malfunctions.

The B-1B bomber involved in the May 1, 2018 emergency landing with the missing hatch following an ejection seat failure. (Photo: Tim Fischer/Midland Reporter-Telegram)

USAF General Robin Rand, Commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale AFB awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal to B-1B crewmembers Major Christopher N. Duhon, Air Forces Strategic – Operations Division chief of future operations at Barksdale AFB, and an instructor pilot with duties at the 28th Bomb Squadron; Captain Matthew Sutton, 28th BS weapon systems officer instructor; 1st Lieutenant Joseph Welch, 28th BS student pilot; and 1st Lieutenant Thomas C. Ahearn, then 28th BS student weapon systems officer who has since completed training and is currently assigned to the 37th BS, Ellsworth AFB, S.D.

The awards satisfy speculation on social media about the Air Force’s handling of the incident following temporary stand-down of the B-1B fleet so safety checks could be performed. Sources on social media voiced frustration after they felt the USAF had not done enough to recognize the efforts of the B-1B crew to save both the personnel on board and the aircraft itself. By early Saturday morning on July 14, it would appear the announcement of the Air Force’s awards to the crew have been met with favor on social media forums familiar with the incident.

Concern about the aging B-1B fleet continues amid speculation about the future of the aircraft set against the backdrop of the Air Force’s upcoming new B-21 Raider bomber program.

The Air Force awarded the crew of the B-1B bomber involved in the May 1, 2018 emergency landing the Distinguished Flying Cross. (Photo: USAF Official)