by Lt. Col. Dale Greer
123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein bestowed the Distinguished Flying Cross on Lt. Col. John “J.T.” Hourigan during a ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base, Aug. 10, 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,” he said. “This is a story I am going to use as chief for the remainder of my tenure 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.”
Hourigan, 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 dollars 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, Major Hourigan quickly eliminated all plausible causes for the condition while simultaneously preparing for a forced landing,” the citation said. “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.”
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 Hourigan had directed a shutdown.
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 and 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 Air Force.
“Never underestimate the importance of your contribution to the defense of this nation,” he said. “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.”