Tower Controller Credited With Save of CV-22 at Kirtland AFB

The tactical rotary-wing aircraft was carrying six crewmembers.

Wendy Smith and Lt. Col. Cassidy
Wendy Smith (L) and Lt. Col. CassidyUSAF

The media team at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico, first reported the story of how a civilian air traffic controller—Wendy Smith—working in Kirtland Tower saved the six-person flight crew of an Air Force CV-22, and avoided a $90 million accident. Cassidy is a 12-year veteran controller at Kirtland.

“They were taking off on a night tactical sortie,” the news release said. “On climb-out, the air traffic controller called the aircraft commander on the radio—'Hey Dusty 73, your right prop-rotor looks weird,’ she said. The crew looked out the window, and usually the three prop-rotor tip lights are in a perfect line, showing that everything is in sync, but they could see that one of the blades was not. That was enough. They came back in, landed, got a new aircraft and went back out. The maintenance team downloaded the information, and one blade was vibrating at three times its limit. Some inspections found a pitch link bearing that controls the blade pitch was falling apart. It had probably another 45 minutes to an hour left of life at the rate it was breaking down. If the aircraft had continued and the aircrew hadn’t noticed the vibrations, it would’ve been a catastrophic failure. That would’ve been a loss of the aircraft and crew.”

rotary-wing CV-22
The rotary-wing CV-22 performs tactical missions that normally require a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft.USAF

The 71st Special Operations Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Brett Cassidy, said, “On that flight, the CV-22 students were in the end phases of their training with their focus on operating under low-light conditions using night-vision gear and doing full brownout landings where they have no visibility of the landing zone. It’s a pretty complex mission set so most folks aren’t really thinking about issues on departure out of here.”

On January 8, 2021, Cassidy presented Wendy Smith with a special coin to commemorate the save.

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