123rd Airlift Wing pilot receives Air Force’s highest individual award for aviation safety

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. James W. Killen
  • 123rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs Office

The United States Air Force presented its highest award for aviation safety to Maj. John T. Hourigan, a C-130 pilot in the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron, during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., May 18.

Hourigan earned the 2016 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy for preventing a catastrophic, in-flight mishap that would have resulted in the loss of aircraft and crew if not for his decisive action on July 15, 2016.

According to the citation, Hourigan’s aircraft began vibrating so violently that crewmembers could not read the instruments or engine gauges. In addition, the sound from the vibration prevented crewmembers from talking to one another through the in-flight communications system.

To make matters worse, Hourigan and his flight crew were executing a maneuver that had them positioned in a 60-degree bank and only 500 feet above the ground.

“It was the first time I have ever been truly scared in the aircraft,” Hourigan said. “I would describe it as a moment of shock.”

Col. David Mounkes, commander of the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Airlift Wing, praised Hourigan for his decisive action during the event.

“There is not a single pilot in the world who does not dread the type of malfunction J.T. and his crew faced,” Mounkes said. “The quick thinking, skill and situational awareness of J.T. and his crew saved lives, and we could not be more proud of them.”

In a matter of moments, Hourigan and his crew were able to diagnose the malfunction, take the number-two engine offline, and request to execute an emergency “engine out” landing at Owensboro-Davies Airport, in Owensboro, Kentucky.

“When we got the number-two shut down and pulled out of the problem, I asked the crew if they were okay, and my flight engineer said, ‘Just climb,’” Hourigan said. “I looked down and we were only 250 feet off the ground.”

The Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy is awarded for outstanding airmanship by an aircrew member who exhibits extraordinary skill, alertness, ingenuity or proficiency in averting or minimizing the seriousness of a flight mishap.

The citation said Hourigan “relied on extraordinary airmanship and resource-management skills, ingenuity and a deep knowledge of the airframe to quickly determine the source of the crippling vibration, implement corrective action and execute an engine-out landing that saved the lives of all six crewmembers and helped identify a previously unknown propeller issue that affects the airworthiness of C-130H aircraft worldwide.”

The incident sparked a world-wide safety investigation and resulted in changes that will reduce the possibility of the same failure impacting another C-130H.

“For the 60th time, we are privileged to attend this ceremony and recognize the accomplishments of an outstanding pilot,” said Koren Kolligian II, the nephew of the Airman for whom the honor is named, during the award presentation in Washington. “Every year we meet remarkable pilots, spend time with them and their families, sharing stories and creating memories.”

The award was established in 1958 in the name of 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., an Air Force pilot declared missing in the line of duty when his T-33 Shooting Star disappeared off the California coast in 1955. It has been awarded to only 59 other airmen.