552nd ACW, families remember Yukla 27 crew 25 years later

  • Published
  • By Paul Shirk
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Rain could not deter the members of the Airborne Warning And Control System family on Sept. 22, 2020, as they gathered to remember the crew of Yukla 27, an E-3 Sentry flight that crashed shortly after takeoff 25 years ago.

The remembrance ceremony, held at the Connie Air Park on Tinker Air Force Base, was attended by American and Canadian members of the 552nd Air Control Wing as well as family members of the Yukla 27 crew.

“For you young Airmen in the wing now, you should remember,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Alain Poisson, 552nd ACW commander. “You should remember the example of Yukla 27’s crew and how they stood on the bastions of freedom and defended our way of life. You should remember, just like Yukla 27, that what we do is important, and dangerous and that lives are at stake. You should remember, that even on your best days, things out of your control can happen and you may be asked like the crew of Yukla 27, to give the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our great nations.”

Plans originally called for the remembrance ceremony to be held at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, where the crash occurred. It was moved to Tinker AFB to allow more family members to attend the ceremony in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-four men and women stood in a line in front of the EC-121 static display aircraft, each representing a member of the Yukla crew. As part of the ceremony, they each read aloud a crewmember’s name.

“Twenty-five years ago today, the 24 crewmembers of Yukla 27 – 22 United States Air Force and two Royal Canadian Air Force – paid the ultimate sacrifice, not only as Americans and Canadians but as brothers and sisters in arms,” said Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Col. Shawn Guilbault, 552nd ACW Canadian Detachment commander.

He later added, “In the 962nd, as with the 552 ACW, we have flown together, fought together – on the frontlines and for the homeland; we are stronger together.”

Yukla, “Eagle” in a native Alaskan dialect, is the call sign given to every AWACS flight that is based out of JB Elmendorf-Richardson. Yukla 27 was assigned to the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron.

The flight was to be a six-hour training mission. During takeoff, a flock of Canadian geese flew into Yukla 27’s flight path. The crew started to climb when the engine flamed out from the geese, without enough power to maintain flight, the aircraft crashed just off of the runway. The flight lasted a total of 42 seconds.

Lessons learned influence the AWACS community even today. Flights that depart JB Elmendorf-Richardson on the same heading now apply a 15-mile correction, known as the Yukla Fix, to avoid future bird strikes.

We remember the crew of Yukla 27 that day:

First Lt. Carlos A. Arriaga, weapons director
Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Bramer, flight engineer
Staff Sgt. Scott A. Bresson, airborne radar technician
Tech. Sgt. Mark A. Collins, communications systems operator
Senior Airman Lawrence E. DeFrancesco, communications systems operator
Tech. Sgt. Bart L. Holmes Sr., flight engineer
Lt. Col. Richard G. Leary, navigator
Master Cpl. Joseph J.P. Legault, Canadian forces, communications technician
Capt. Robert J. Long, senior weapons director
Master Sgt. Stephen C. O'Connell, advanced airborne surveillance technician
Capt. Bradley W. Paakola, co-pilot
Tech. Sgt. Ernest R. Parrish, area specialist
Sgt. David L. Pitcher, Canadian Forces, battle director technician
Capt. Glenn "Skip" Rogers Jr., aircraft commander
Airman Jeshua C. Smith, airborne surveillance technician
Staff Sgt. Raymond O. Spencer Jr., airborne surveillance technician
Maj. Richard P. Stewart II, mission crew commander
Tech. Sgt. Charles D. Sweet Jr., airborne radar technician
Maj. Marlon R. Thomas, mission crew commander
Tech. Sgt. Timothy B. Thomas, computer display maintenance technician
Maj. Steven A. Tuttle, airborne surveillance officer
Tech. Sgt. Brian K. Van Leer, advanced airborne surveillance technician
Airman Darien F. Watson, airborne surveillance technician
Senior Airman Joshua N. Weter, computer display maintenance technician