LOUISVILLE, Ky. – U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein bestowed the Distinguished Flying Cross on Lt. Col. John "J.T." Hourigan during a Saturday ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base, praising the pilot's "exceptional airmanship under duress."
Hourigan distinguished himself by extraordinary achievement while serving as commander of a C-130 Hercules aircraft on July 15, 2016, narrowly recovering the aircraft from a potentially fatal descent following a catastrophic mechanical failure.
"This is a big day, and this is a big deal," Goldfein told an audience of nearly 800 Airmen, friends and family. "This is the Distinguished Flying Cross. We don't hand many of these out.
"Every aviator here has burned into our psyche three lines that drive our response to every emergency: maintain aircraft control, analyze the situation and take proper action. This is a story I am going to use for the remainder of my tenure as chief when I talk about those three key attributes. This is a story about how all of J.T.'s training, his upbringing, his heritage and his competence all came together when lives were on the line. He performed each one of these steps, and recovered an aircraft that was heading to a possibly tragic end.
"So we're really proud of J.T., and his team and his unit. For his steady hand under the worst conditions. Because today we celebrate the safe return of an entire crew, so that you all can continue this wing's incredibly important mission."
Horigan, who held the rank of major at the time of the incident, "prevented a catastrophic aircraft mishap using superior aviation skills, expeditious problem-solving and vast knowledge of the airframe, saving five crew members' lives, himself and a $30 million aircraft," according to the award citation.
"At low altitude in the Owensboro, Kentucky, area, the aircraft began to vibrate with such ferocity that crew members could not interpret the flight instruments or engine gauges, and were unable to communicate normally due to extreme noise. Rapidly losing altitude and airspeed, the aircraft was shaking so violently that crewmembers thought it was coming apart.
"Lacking any instrumentation information available during training and simulator profiles, Maj. Hourigan quickly eliminated all plausible causes for the condition while simultaneously preparing for a forced landing," the citation continues. "Without recourse to any codified procedures, he bravely exercised independent judgment and directed a shutdown of an engine based on the throttle variation he felt in his hand. With the aircraft continuing to decelerate and losing altitude, the engine shutdown was accomplished flawlessly 277 feet above ground."
"Maj. Hourigan then successfully recovered the aircraft and performed an emergency landing, after which the crew discovered the aircraft had suffered a catastrophic propeller failure of the engine for which Major Hourigan had directed a shutdown.
"Maj. Hourigan actively participated in the safety investigation to determine the root cause of the malfunction, resulting in a safety supplement to the C-130 aircraft operating manual," the citation concludes. "The magnitude of the mechanical malfunction was elevated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resulting in modifications to depot- and unit-level Technical Orders affecting the global C-130 fleet."
Goldfein also praised the dedication of Airmen from the 123rd Airlift Wing, one of the most decorated units in the U.S. Air Force.
"This wing has a rich history, evolving from the times of tactical fighters in your past to tactical airlift today, along with aeromedical and special operations," he noted. "This great wing also contributes critical, unparalleled capability (with the Air Guard's) only contingency response group.
"To the members of this wing, where excellence is the standard, our Air Force continues down the path of Total Force integration – active, Guard, Reserve and civilian. We truly are one Air Force, 685,000 strong. Part of a long blue line, working together in perfect formation, and ready to face the challenge and meet the needs of 21st-century warfare.
"Never underestimate the importance of your contribution to the defense of this nation. America sleeps well at night because we don't. We stand the watch, and we will continue to do so. May God bless this nation that we love, and those from the 123rd who always have, and always will, defend it."