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.
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.”
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.
© 2015, Bryan R. Swopesby