ALPA Presents First Officer Kenneth Wasson with Superior Airmanship Award

Hopkinton, N.H., Pilot Recognized for Safely Overcoming Tire Failure and Gear Malfunction during Takeoff

WASHINGTON—The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) will recognize Delta Air Lines First Officer Kenneth Wasson for his role in successfully handling a potentially catastrophic flight emergency at Madrid, Spain, last December. He will receive the Superior Airmanship Award at ALPA’s 60th Air Safety Forum, to be held August 4–7 in Washington, D.C.

Providing the highest level of safety for our passengers is our first priority as professional Delta and ALPA pilots,” said Capt. Michael Donatelli, chairman of the Delta Air Lines pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC). “F/O Kenneth Wasson has demonstrated superior airmanship as part of a tremendous team effort to react appropriately, and successfully in a time-critical emergency. The Delta MEC recognizes and thanks him for his commitment to the safety of our passengers.”

On the morning of Dec. 5, 2013, Delta Air Lines Flight 415, Boeing 767 service from Madrid to New York, suffered a violent main landing gear tire blowout during takeoff. The flight crew heard a loud bang as the tire exploded, followed by continuous loud noise, and heavy vibration throughout the airplane. The vibration was severe enough to dislodge ceiling panels and caused numerous oxygen masks to fall in the cabin. On board the aircraft were 200 passengers, eight flight attendants, and three pilots.

Because the airplane had just reached flying speed, F/O Wasson, who was flying the airplane, continued the takeoff, rather than trying to stop on the remaining runway. As the heavy widebody aircraft climbed away from the runway, the pilots tried unsuccessfully to raise the landing gear. Cockpit warning lights showed that the tire explosion—which blew a hole through the right wing—had ruptured lines in two of the airplane’s three hydraulic systems by which the pilots operate the flight controls, wheel brakes, nosewheel steering, and other aircraft systems.

The pilots declared an emergency to Madrid air traffic control and communicated with Delta’s operations center, maintenance, and dispatchers, the flight attendants, and the passengers. As a team, they ran the emergency procedures checklist for the dual hydraulic system failure.

F/O Wasson and Capt. Edward Bird prepared for an overweight landing back at Madrid. They would have to land with no reverse thrust available from the right engine, and only limited emergency braking ability.

F/O Wasson flew a normal approach at an increased landing speed of 182 knots (210 miles per hour), which was higher than normal because of the airplane’s greater than normal landing weight. Despite the higher speed and decreased aircraft performance, F/O Wasson made a perfect landing, on speed and in the normal landing zone.

Using full manual braking and left thrust reverse, the pilots decelerated the overweight B-767 until reaching the last taxiway, where the last of the emergency hydraulic pressure for the brakes finally gave out. With no brakes and no steering, the airplane veered to the left and stopped just off a taxiway.

Though the airplane required extensive repairs, none of the passengers or crew members were injured.

“F/O Wasson has very clearly demonstrated superior airmanship,” said ALPA president Capt. Lee Moak. “Using his superb manual flying skills to control the aircraft during this difficult scenario contributed to the safe outcome of the flight. His actions are the embodiment of the superior airmanship that this award seeks to celebrate.”

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union, representing more than 51,000 pilots at 31 airlines in the United States and Canada. Visit the ALPA website at or follow us on Twitter .

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