Two 931st ARG members receive DFC
By Staff Sgt. Kenny Kimbrell, 931st ARG Public Affairs
/ Published July 24, 2006
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Maj. Michael Moeding and Maj. Marco Moor of the Air Force Reserve's 931st Air Refueling Group have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their actions in an event over Afghanistan in 2003.
The 18th Air Refueling Squadron pilots will formally receive the award, given to any officer or enlisted member who distinguishes himself or herself in combat in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, in a ceremony later this year.
It was Jan. 23, 2003, somewhere over the skies of Afghanistan. A KC-135R Stratotanker crew assigned to the 384th Air Expeditionary Wing based in Southwest Asia was in the final stages of a nine-hour mission when an unlikely and unexpected event occurred.
"The number one control display unit had a programming fault failure that corrupted the number two and three CDUs causing a complete heading, navigation, attitude, transponder, auto-pilot and Flight Management System failure," said Maj. Michael Moeding, pilot and aircraft commander of the flight.
The problem was not addressed in the technical orders, so the pilots had to come up with a solution.
"There is no airborne solution for the problem," said Major Moeding.
Circumstances beyond the crew's control made it impossible to communicate with the ground or through the airborne warning and control system aircraft.
"AWACS was refueling and unable to talk to us, and the ground control agency was too far away to hear us on the radio," said Major Moeding.
"We (AWACS) have to shut down our systems during refueling due to fire and radiation hazards," said Capt. Lonzo Wallace, pilot and flight safety officer for the 552nd Air Control Wing.
With yet another strike against them, the crew, now on their own, had to act promptly and decisively.
"We elected to depart the combat AOR for the relative safety of the open ocean," said Major Moeding. "We didn't have the fuel to loiter over Afghanistan waiting for help; we had to resolve our problem alone."
Running low on fuel and instruments gone awry, the crew turned south.
"We guessed at position and started timing and airspeed to get out of the AOR," said Major Moeding. "We climbed 500 feet to help avoid coalition aircraft."
Hope was found over the ocean.
"We heard another tanker on the radio and we asked them to try and catch up to us and lead us home," the major said. "We made a visual only rejoin over the Indian Ocean just off the coast."
"We were in the right place at the right time," said Capt. Shelby Basler, pilot and aircraft commander of the rescuing KC-135R Stratotanker.
What ensued was a necessary game of follow the leader.
"We declared an emergency for them and coordinated with air traffic control to modify both flight plans for the most direct routing to their recovery base," said Captain Basler.
Captain Basler and her crew guided the other aircraft all the way to their base.
"We led them in for a visual approach, flew straight through initial and waited until the crippled aircraft landed before commencing a second approach," said Captain Basler. "The landing was uneventful, and both planes were recovered safely."
The crew of the malfunctioning aircraft was happy to have had the help.
"The assisting tanker crew did a great job considering it was their first flight in the AOR," said Major Moeding.
The problem with the equipment wasn't resolved until months later.
"After a lot of research following the incident, Rockwell Collins (the CDU manufacturer) determined that the CDU failed due to a one-in-a-million programming code error that caused the failure and allowed the corrupted data to infect the other two CDUs much like a virus," said Major Moeding.
Since the incident, All KC-135 Stratotankers have received the software patch that prevents this type of failure; the problem shouldn't occur again.
Former active-duty Staff Sgt. Christopher Murphy was the boom operator on the mission; Sergeant Murphy was awarded an Air Medal for his actions on the flight.