US Marine pilot awarded for Libya rescue

A pilot for one of the two V-22 Osprey aircraft that rescued a downed F-15E fighter jet pilot from Libya in March 2011 was recently recognised for her actions at an award ceremony held at the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 21 (HX-21) hangar at Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland, US.

A pilot for one of the two V-22 Osprey aircraft that rescued a downed F-15E fighter jet pilot from Libya in March 2011 was recently recognised for her actions at an award ceremony held at the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 21 (HX-21) hangar at Naval Air Systems Command in Maryland, US. Marine Corps Capt. Rebecca Massey, now assigned to HX-21 as a test team pilot, received the Air Medal with combat distinguishing device on 14 January for her actions as a member of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 Reinforced supporting the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) in spring 2011.

The 26th MEU was embarked on the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn (the armed suppression of the Libyan government’s air defences and ground forces in March 2011) when an F-15E went down near Benghazi, Libya. Its crew – a pilot and weapons officer – both ejected safely, but became separated after ejecting. The weapons officer was recovered by rebel forces allied against the Libyan government, but the pilot landed in hostile territory.

Massey was part of the MEU Tactical Recovery of Aircraft Personnel (TRAP) recovery team on alert for this type of event and responded along with another MV-22 and two CH-53 Super Stallions. Massey, the co-pilot of her aircraft, and her MV-22 wingman were in the air for the recovery within two hours of the initial report of the crash. The TRAP team was directed to the location of the downed pilot and manoeuvred to make a recovery. Massey’s wingman made the landing while Massey’s crew circled overhead preparing for the return back to USS Kearsarge. Upon recovery of the F-15E pilot, which took less than 90 seconds on the ground, the TRAP team proceeded back to Kearsarge for a total round trip of more than 300 nautical miles (345 miles/555 km) in less than 90 minutes.

Massey said it was a humbling experience to receive the Air Medal and attributed the accolades to her fellow TRAP teammates: “I am very honoured to have received this medal, but the credit really should go to my crewmates and squadron maintainers who made it possible for me to help rescue the F-15E pilot.”

Massey also credits the Osprey, which she has flown for nearly six years, for making that mission easy to accomplish: “I really enjoy the flexibility that this aircraft provides, and it’s a joy to fly. Although I believe this mission could have been accomplished by other legacy [US Marine Corps] TRAP assets, I don’t think any other aircraft could have done it as quickly or efficiently.”