5 September 1983

Captain Robert J. Goodman's Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker refuels and tows a crippled McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II over the North Atlantic. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Robert J. Goodman’s Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker refuels and tows a crippled McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II over the North Atlantic. (U.S. Air Force)

5 September 1983: A Strategic Air Command Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker of the 42nd Air Refueling Squadron, Loring  AFB, Maine, was sent to rendezvous with a flight of McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter bombers crossing the Atlantic Ocean enroute to Europe. As they began to refuel the fighters, one F-4E began to lose power in one of its engines, and also lost part of its hydraulic system. The Phantom’s pilot had difficulty maintaining speed and altitude as he tried to hook up with the tanker, and the second engine began to overheat. The two aircraft flew at just above the Stratotanker’s landing speed so that the Phantom could keep up, but as it slowed further, the Phantom’s angle of attack had to increase to maintain lift. This exceeded the mechanical limits of the refueling boom and the two airplanes separated without the fighter having received a full fuel load.

LCOL Robert J. Goodman, USAF (1943–2011). (U.S. Air Force)
LCOL Robert J. Goodman, USAF (1943–2011). (U.S. Air Force)

The crew of the F-4E was in serious danger. It was unlikely that the airplane could remain in the air for much longer. It was decided to head for Gander, Newfoundland, the closest place to land, 500 miles (806 kilometers) away. Captain Robert J. Goodman, U.S. Air Force, aircraft commander of the Stratotanker, decided to escort the crippled fighter which continued to lose altitude. It was necessary to try to refuel it three more times, and on occasion, the tanker actually towed the fighter back to altitude.

With the help of the tanker, the Phantom II finally arrived at Gander and landed safely.

For their efforts to save the lives of the crew of the F-4E, Captain Goodman and his crew, Captain Michael F. Clover, 1st Lieutenant Karol F. Wojcikowski and Staff Sergeant Douglas D. Simmons, Crew E113, were awarded the Mackay Trophy “For outstanding achievement while on a routine refueling mission involving F-4E aircraft, saving a valuable aircraft from destruction and its crew from possible death.

SAC Crew E113, left to right: 1st Lieutenant Karol F. Wocjikowski, Captain Michael F. Clover, Captain Robert J. Goodman and Staff Sergeant Douglas D. Simmons. (U.S. Air Force)

The Mackay Trophy which is awarded annually for “the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons, or organization.” It is kept at the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

The Mackay Trophy.
The Mackay Trophy.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 thoughts on “5 September 1983

  1. I wonder if towing-to-altitude is a technique that was taught or spontaneous genius. Great teamwork!

  2. Wow what an amazing accomplishment I remember when that happened . What an amazing accomplishment of teamwork and training.. not to mention the KC135A was one of the best aircraft ever built,, I was lucky enough to supply aircraft parts to tanker programs in the 1980s &1990s I really loved the Boeing KC-135A tankers

  3. That was my squadron. I was in the lead cell. Fantastic job by a tanker crew. They spoiled us fighter guys. From SEA to the MidEast of today. Ain’t no AirPower without Tanker Power.

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