Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Friendly Fire - 7/5/2011

When I was stationed at RAF Bentwaters, United Kingdom, in the early 80s, an incident occurred that I felt I should chronicle. I am certain that this event wasn’t widely publicized, and was not funny at the time, but in retrospect………….

I will give a back-story, hopefully without boring my readers to tears, but some background is necessary to relate the story. RAF Bentwaters was home to the A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft, lovingly called the Warthog. It is essentially a flying tank. The A-10 is heavily armored, with incredible anti-tank weaponry. Among that hardware is a 30MM Gatling gun, mounted in the nose. I will not bore you with specifics about this amazing weapon but will provide a link here if you desire more information. Suffice to say, it is a big-ass projectile.

The event that I am recounting involves this aircraft and this particular weapon. A young airman was attempting to remove a single jammed round from the 30MM Gatling gun on an aircraft parked in a hardened shelter. He was using an unauthorized, but very popular, method of prying the round out with a screwdriver. The round fired, shooting off across the airfield. You can see where this might be a problem.

Since the firing was both highly unexpected and incredibly loud (particularly in the confined space), the young airman was not able to report what had happened. Instead, he was wandering aimlessly inside the structure, dazed and confused, probably with blood running out of his ears.

If you are still with me, you are probably wondering where the projectile ended up. That is a very important part of the story.

RAF Bentwaters maintained a stockpile of “special” weapons to support fighter aircraft that would deploy there from the United States in case the shit hit the fan. The A-10 is much too slow and short-ranged to deliver this type of bomb and not be vaporized. As you can imagine, such a storage facility is heavily secured. So where do you suppose would be the absolute worst place for this projectile to terminate its short journey? Yep, it blew the door off of the security office of the weapon’s storage area. Fortunately, no one was walking in or out of that door at the time. Even more fortunately, it was not a high explosive anti-tank round, or the building would have been reduced to rubble.

The missile shop, in which I worked, was co-located with the weapon’s storage area. This event was immediately reported as a rocket attack on the “special” weapons area. As you can imagine, that situation was taken very seriously. We went on high alert. All personnel were immediately armed (against what, I had no idea). M-16s are normally not effective against rockets.

Fortunately, before any of our crack team of pseudo-combatants had blindly opened fire on the invisible attacking forces, someone found the incoherent specialist, determined what had actually happened, and we stood down. In my 20 year Air Force career that was the one and only time I had been fired upon. I still have no idea why I did not receive a medal for that incident.


nadja said...

That's hilarious! I can see the looks on everyone's faces as they blindly fired on their imaginary attackers!

Chris said...

That could have been bad.

Anonymous said...

I was there, not on that crew, but I remember it clearly. Actually, I was on the end of the runway when the warthog with the jammed gun landed. The pilot actually went off the runway, and we had to run out and secure the gun. I opened the hatch and a small amount of gunpowder fell out. I tried to install the safety pin, but it wouldn’t go completely through. The crew chief radioed back to the base, and told them we still had a hot gun. They towed the aircraft back to the tab v and it was later that the misfire occurred. Sometime in 1982.