Face of Defense: Airman’s Instincts Prevent Catastrophe

By Tech. Sgt. James Law, USAF

American Forces Press Service  

March 14, 2008 – An airman’s quick action following a Feb. 26 jet fuel starter explosion that sent shrapnel across the flightline here averted a possible explosion of an F-15E Strike Eagle, officials said.  Air Force Staff Sgt. Jonathan Billie was working near a fellow airman preparing an F-15E for flight when the small motor that starts the fighter’s engines blew up.

The jet fuel starter imploded, and pieces of the machine flew across the flightline.  “I went out to help the crew chief on the jet clean up the area and find out how much damage had occurred,” said Billie, an F-15E crew chief with the 335th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit here. “When I came upon the scene, I noticed there was a lot of shrapnel on the ground.”  

Instinctively, Billie looked up into the engine’s exhaust to check the damage and noticed flames flickering in the engine compartment. In eight years as an F-15 crew chief, he said, he had never before personally witnessed flames in the engine.  “I had someone come over and verify, just to double check, because you don’t want to jump to conclusions,” Billie said.  

With the flames confirmed, Billie immediately ran over and grabbed the hose off the halon fire extinguisher while simultaneously instructing another crew chief to charge the bottle. Charging the bottle is a process of removing a safety pin and pushing the charging handle forward to pressurize the hose.  Billie yelled out to the eight or so airmen nearby to clear the area.

He ran back to the aircraft, pointed the hose into the exhaust and sprayed the bottle’s contents onto the fire before it turned catastrophic.  “The first thing that crossed my mind was the live explosives,” said Billie, who is deployed from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. “My thoughts were, ‘We need to put this fire out now.'”  Billie said F-15 crew chiefs are trained to deal with this situation, but because it is not a frequent occurrence, it is imperative to remember the training and react without hesitation.  

“His actions were outstanding,” said Senior Master Sgt. Donald Poormon, the maintenance unit’s F-15E assistant superintendent. “He acted perfectly, and you couldn’t ask for better.”  Brig. Gen. James W. Hyatt, then the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, recognized Billie with a commander’s coin at a meeting with the wing’s group commanders and chief master sergeants.  

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. James Law serves with 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)


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