The U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff recognized an F-35 pilot from Eglin Air Force Base last week for averting an accident that saved his life and the fifth-generation fighter he was piloting.
General Mark Welsh presented Capt. Timothy K. Killham, an F-35A Lightning II pilot based at Eglin, the Koren Kolligian Jr. trophy for flight safety in a ceremony at the Pentagon Sept. 23. The award recognizes outstanding feats of airmanship by an individual aircrew member, who by extraordinary skill, exceptional alertness, ingenuity, or proficiency, averted accidents or minimized the seriousness of the accidents in terms of injury, loss of life, aircraft or property damage.
Killham experienced engine malfunction on his jet during a takeoff June 23, 2014, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. With the aircraft engulfed in flames, he skillfully controlled the plane, aborted takeoff, and got himself to safety — a move that saved his life and the aircraft.
Air Force investigators later found the source of the fire and worked with the manufacturer to resolve the problem for future aircraft. This will save lives well into the future, allowing the Air Force to safeguard Airmen, prevent mishaps, and preserve combat readiness, said Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Mueller, Air Force chief of safety.
The incident was caused by a failure of the third-stage rotor of the engine fan module, according to an Air Education and Training Command Accident Investigation Board. Accidents such as this are rare, but pilots are trained to always remain calm and alert, following emergency procedures.
“Training makes the difference between life and death in these situations,” Mueller said. “Habit patterns instilled through training, which starts on day one in the Air Force, and then the self-discipline to adhere to those habits under pressure, are what keeps the Air Force safe.”
Killham agreed and credited training and practice for his success.
“I had been taught and practiced the emergency procedures (abort and egress) for this event ever since pilot training,” he said. “When the fire happened, the decision-making process was simple from training. The fire just added a lot of adrenaline to the situation.”
Welsh said the award is about more than just flying.
“It is about the family of flying,” the chief of staff said. “This is about airmanship. It lifts our Air Force up.”
Welsh applauded the Kolligian family who preserved their loved one’s name through an annual award that has a 58-year legacy. The first Kolligian trophy was commissioned by the family and awarded in 1957 by Gen. Curtis LeMay.
“What the Kolligian family understands is that wearing wings is a big deal,” Welsh said. “One of the things about people we lose in this business, is they don’t really go anywhere. They don’t die and go away. Their hearts turn blue, and those great NCOs wear them in their chevrons. Their souls turn silver and we carry them on (our) hearts.”
The trophy is named in memory of 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., an Air Force pilot declared missing in the line of duty when his T-33 aircraft disappeared off the California coast on Sept. 14, 1955.
The Kolligian family donated a large trophy, which remains on permanent display at the Pentagon. Annual recipients are given individual replicas to take home.