First female aviator receives Kolligian Trophy

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Z. Erwin
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

“Where’s the ground? Where’s the ground?” No one wants to ask this question while flying.

For Capt. Taylor Bye, an A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot assigned to the 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, this question blared through her mind when she faced a looming crisis during a routine training sortie two years ago. The experience tested her capabilities as an aviator and her ability to maintain a level head.

For her extraordinary skill and airmanship, Bye was awarded the 2020 Koren Kolligian, Jr. Trophy by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., at the Pentagon, May 11.

“I’m thankful every day for the professionalism, capability and competency of Airmen like Capt. Taylor Bye,” Brown said during the presentation. “The day she landed with 66% of her landing gear and wind in her hair is one she’ll never forget. Today, I was honored to recognize her exemplary performance.”

In April 2020, during a routine training sortie, Bye’s A-10’s gun experienced a catastrophic failure, her canopy was sent soaring through the sky during flight and forced her to decide to either eject or attempt a gear-up “belly” landing.

“Looking back, I sometimes have to remind myself of what happened,” Bye said. “Everything happened quickly yet slowly at the same time. I am thankful I didn’t get nervous or overwhelmed, I was able to maintain a level head and take care of each issue as it arose.

She continued by explaining how she didn’t see each problem as impassable. It was a task to be handled.

“I had no reason to feel rushed or that I would ‘fall out of the sky’,” Bye continued. “I knew I had time to analyze what was happening and make the appropriate decision. The peace of mind knowing I had time made a huge difference.”

Bye is the first woman to be awarded the trophy since its inception. The trophy recognizes the outstanding feats of airmanship and skill of aircrew members who avert or minimize the seriousness of an aircraft mishap in terms of injury, aircraft or property damage.

“I cannot believe I am receiving this award, and I am so humbled to be in D.C. for the ceremony,” Bye said. “This whole experience has challenged me in many ways, but to be recognized with this honor is something I will never forget. For a day that had the makings of something less than pleasant, this will definitely be the highlight I dwell on.”

This award recognizes individual accomplishments; however, Bye emphasized the importance of her team both on the ground and in-flight, citing assistance from her wingman Maj. Jack Ingber, another Moody AFB A-10 pilot.

“My wingman was my source of normalcy,” Bye described. “We train to looking over someone else’s jet from the first stages of formation flying, so I knew I was in good hands when he checked out the parts of my jet I was unable to see from my cockpit.

At one point after a decent amount of time into the emergency, he said over the radio ‘you’re doing a good job, one.’ That small statement made the world of difference because it reminded me I had a team helping me.”

There are processes in place to handle some emergencies, but Bye’s actions and competence demonstrated her understanding of the aircraft, airmanship and split-second decision making.

“In that moment, I was just a trained professional doing my job,” Bye said. “There were moments when I had time to read the checklist and think logically on the next step.

Bye added that when her canopy departed, her instinct said ‘survive.’ Without thinking, Bye put the throttles in max, pitched the aircraft nose up and lowered her seat to reduce the wind blast.

“We don’t necessarily train for this, but the split-second decision I made was my body’s natural response,” Bye explained.

The trophy memorializes 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian, Jr., an Air Force pilot declared missing in the line of duty when his aircraft disappeared off the California coast in 1955.