Air Force Pilot Recovers Aircraft Shot by Enemy Fire in Afghanistan

Air Force Pilot Recovers Aircraft Shot by Enemy Fire in Afghanistan

September 16, 2023

A Night to Remember: Major Chris "Chewy" Richardson Recounts the Mission When His C-130J Was Shot Up

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The vast skies can be both a sanctuary and a battlefield for pilots. For Major Chris "Chewy" Richardson, one mission stands out as a testament to the unpredictability of combat flights and how you must always be ready.

"We got shot at by a PKM, which is a Russian-made heavy machine gun,"

On a seemingly routine mission, Major Richardson and his crew found themselves in a situation that would test their training, teamwork, and tenacity. "We were just doing a standard airdrop mission out of Bagram," Richardson recalls. But as any seasoned pilot knows, in combat zones, 'standard' can quickly turn into 'critical.'

As the C-130J made its descent, the enemy engaged his aircraft. "We got shot at by a PKM, which is a Russian-made heavy machine gun," Richardson shared. The bullets pierced the aircraft, causing significant damage. "We took three rounds through the aircraft. “One [round]  went through the prop, one went through the fuselage, and one went through the horizontal stabilizer."

Major Richardson’s loadmaster was hit but in stable condition.  Due to the levity of the mission, “Chewy” elected to attempt a second approach.  However, unbeknownst to them a single bullet had struck a critical component, which inhibited any warning sign and resulted in additional flight control issues on the second approach.  Due to the additional malfunction, Major Richardson elected to go-around as landing the battle-damaged C-130J would have been too risky at the forward operating base.  He elected to return to Bagram airbase with a longer runway and appropriate support equipment.  

The crew's immediate response was crucial. "We were about 150 feet off the ground, doing about 130 knots," he said, emphasizing the gravity of the situation. With the aircraft damaged and the risk of further enemy fire, the crew had to make split-second decisions.

Despite the dire circumstances, Major Richardson and his crew were able to step to a spare aircraft and re-attempt the infill shortly after returning to Bagram.

Reflecting on the incident, Major Richardson highlighted the importance of preparation and teamwork. "It's all about how you react in those situations. You fall back on your training. You fall back on what you know."

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