HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
It has been one year since we lost the crew of Demise 25, when their U-28A crashed March 14, 2017 near Clovis Municipal Airport. As we approach the anniversary of this tragedy, we remember the crew and honor their legacy. All three crewmembers were known throughout the 318th Special Operations Squadron for their skill, dedication, and patriotism.
Maj. Andrew Becker had flown 2,280 combat hours over nine deployments. A highly experienced instructor pilot, he was considered a subject matter expert. Junior and senior aviators alike sought him out for advice on the U-28. He could put anyone at ease during evaluations and helped other instructors improve their methods.
“Becker was well-respected and considered highly approachable by peers for his expertise,” said Lt. Col. David Erpelding, 318th SOS commander. “He was trusted to serve as the deployed Lead Pilot, ensuring aircrew proficiency and compliance with regulations in dynamic combat environments.”
Capt. Kenneth Dalga had three deployments, flying 158 sorties. He was known for his passionate drive to hone his talent as an aviator and was a likely candidate for an early upgrade to instructor.
“If there was a new aircraft technique, he would master it first and best,” said Erpelding. “He dedicated countless hours to mentoring his peers and engaging in tactical discussions, helping to shape U-28A operations worldwide.”
Capt. Frederick “Drew” Dellecker was a promising, relatively new addition to the 318th. His professionalism and outstanding performance started in training, where he consistently distinguished himself among his peers, and continued upon his arrival at the squadron. He was the person in the unit that always had a positive attitude, regardless of the task at hand.
“He maintained the same level of professional airmanship and was noted for serving as a positive example to his classmates,” said Erpelding. “As he progressed into the 318th SOS, instructors remarked on his attention to detail, outstanding attitude, and enthusiasm to learn.”
On March 14, 2017, Demise 25 completed operational training over Lubbock, Texas, in anticipation of their upcoming deployment. They returned to the Clovis, New Mexico, area to accomplish pilot proficiency training. While flying near Clovis Municipal Airport, the crew performed multiple approaches and emergency landing pattern procedures. During a turn-back emergency landing pattern, in which the aircraft completes a 180-degree turn in order to return to a runway from which they had just departed, the aircraft went into an unrecoverable stall, and crashed approximately a quarter mile from the airport.
The loss of the three Air Commandos aboard Demise 25 was tragic. In the wake of this accident, Air Force Special Operations Command carefully studied every aspect of the mission, reviewed flying standards and training profiles, and adjusted procedures to prevent future mishaps that mirror these circumstances.
More than 100 man hours were spent in a state-of-the-art simulator in Dallas to help institute mandatory processes for practicing emergency landing procedures. U-28 Air Commandos are now required to routinely accomplish these procedures in an aircraft simulator. Additionally, all U-28 aircrew, without reference, are required to memorize the immediate aircrew response procedures for the same conditions Demise 25 experienced. Finally, the U-28 community comprehensively reviewed the risk associated with their training programs to determine which flying training events should be continued and which should be relegated to the simulator.
During the deployment that followed, the Air Commandos of the 318th SOS carried the legacy of Demise 25 with them during their missions. They focused on the highest safety standards while providing the exceptional operational support that Maj. Becker, Capt. Dalga, and Capt. Dellecker would have expected.
On this anniversary, we remember the crew of Demise 25 for their accomplishments and strive to maintain their legacy while accomplishing our mission in the safest possible manner. We owe our very best in honoring our fallen Air Commandos.