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T-38 pilot receives highest aviation safety award

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, left, and Lt. Col. William Lee participate in a ceremony, honoring Lee with the 2014 Kolligian Trophy, Oct. 8, in the Pentagon. Lee is assigned to the 96th Flying Training Squadron at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, left, and Lt. Col. William Lee participate in a ceremony, honoring Lee with the 2014 Kolligian Trophy, Oct. 8, in the Pentagon. Lee is assigned to the 96th Flying Training Squadron at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) -- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III presented the service's top safety award, the Koren Kolligian Jr. Trophy, to a pilot from Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, during a ceremony Oct. 8, at the Pentagon.

The recipient, Lt. Col. William E. Lee, received the honor for his actions during a solo T-38C Talon functional check flight in March 2013.

Lee is the functional check flight branch chief for the T-38, 96th Flying Training Squadron, 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin AFB, Texas.

During the flight, the rear cockpit multi-function display dislocated and became wedged between the control stick and the instrument panel. This caused the aircraft to pitch upward and roll violently left. After executing a controllability check, Lee was able to maintain control and fly back to base with minimal controls.

Just before landing, he experienced an un-commanded roll that required an increase in power, which brought the aircraft to a stop only a few feet from the raised barrier.

"This year's honoree, Lt. Col. William Lee, truly showcases the precision, professionalism and performance that embody the spirit of Koren Kolligian," said Koren Kolligian II, a nephew of Kolligian.

During the ceremony Lee told the audience that it wasn't his normal "stick and rudder" training that prepared him for the emergency. Instead, he credited past personal and professional relationships that prepared him with the tools he needed to fly the T-38 and recover it safely in March 2013.

It began with his grandparents, who raised him, and taught him to "be the best he could be in any endeavor" as well as the importance of persistence in achieving goals. His relationships in the Air Force were forged by mentors as a young aircraft maintenance officer, pilot training instructors who challenged him, and flying peers who always pushed him to be a better F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot.

He said they imparted in him a sense of determination, in-depth aircraft systems knowledge, excellent flying skills and critical analytical skills needed for him to become an exceptional functional check flight pilot.

Lee's immediate actions and quick decision making skills diverted a major catastrophe and prevented the loss of his aircraft, lives and property.

The Kolligian Trophy is presented each year to an Air Force crewmember that shows extraordinary skill, alertness, ingenuity, or proficiency in averting or minimizing the seriousness of a flight mishap. It was established in 1958 in the name of 1st Lt. Koren Kolligian Jr., an Air Force pilot declared missing in the line of duty when his T-33 Shooting Star disappeared off the coast of California in 1955.

The Kolligian family continues to sponsor and attend the award presentation which maintains a rich heritage dating back 57 years to the first decade of the Air Force.

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