Vance Airman brings home AF chief of staff Kolligian Trophy

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  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

ARLINGTON, Va. – Air Force Chief of Staff Gen C.Q. Brown Jr., presented the 2019 Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy to Capt. Justin W. Sager, a T-6 Texan II pilot assigned to the 71st Flying Training Wing, Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, at the Pentagon, Dec. 6.

Using his years of experience as an instructor pilot, Sager successfully executed an emergency landing after a catastrophic engine failure, saving both his life and the life of his student.

On Dec. 18, 2018, while conducting aerobatics training with a student pilot near Vance AFB, Sager noticed an abrupt loss of oil pressure, followed soon after by an alarm indicating a potential imminent engine failure. 

Without delay, he assumed aircraft control from the student pilot and, while making an immediate turn to the most suitable emergency airfield, initiated a climb to give the aircraft more altitude in the event the engine stopped working. 

When the aircraft engine violently seized moments later Sager completed emergency procedures and glided to an emergency landing at Woodring Regional Airport, four miles from base.
While approaching the airfield, Sager directed his student to extend the landing gear and lower their flaps to takeoff position, using the increased lift to carry the aircraft over the runway threshold, touching down approximately 50 feet down the runway.

Sager then used the aircraft’s excess energy to taxi clear of the runway without engine power. 

“The simulator emergency procedure training, along with a lot of practice in the actual aircraft, paid off for sure,” said Sager. “I was lucky to have relatively calm winds that day or it could have easily turned into an ejection scenario. The Vance AFB safety team members were incredible to work with.”

Col. Jay Johnson, 71st FTW commander, attended the ceremony at the Pentagon with Sager.

“I could not be more proud of Major Sager and the incredible Airmanship he displayed. The Kolligian Trophy is a treasured piece of Air Force history and the Kolligian family is an amazing part of our Air Force family,” said Johnson.

During the ceremony, the Air Force chief of staff noted that Sager’s superb reaction to the situation resulted in the safe recovery of two Airmen and a $5.5 million aircraft.

The trophy is named for 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., an Air Force pilot who was declared missing when his T-33 Shooting Star disappeared off the California coast Sept. 14, 1955. Each year since the award was established in 1957, one or more members of the Kolligian family has made the trip to take part in the presentation and to meet the honorees.
The ceremony for both the 2019 and 2020 recipients was postponed to Dec. 6, 2021, due to COVID-19 considerations.