Awarded to any person in aviation, at any time, for an act or other achievement in aviation considered worthy of the Medal, as soon as the facts of the event are clear. This is intended to be an immediate award, made at the discretion of the Master. It is done so on the advice of the Trophies and Awards Committee, after careful consideration and due diligence.
(Amended Terms of Reference 2019)
Lieutenant Colonel Adam “Blade” Thornton’s skill as Commander, 79th Fighter Squadron, and as an experienced F-16 Instructor Pilot, were tested in combat on 11 December 2019 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan during an attack by the Haqqani network. At approximately 0600, 11 Dec 2019, Haqqani network operatives detonated a 2,500 pound vehicle-borne explosive device along the perimeter of Bagram Air Base allowing multiple Haqqani fighters, heavily armed with rocket propelled grenades, mortars, heavy machine guns, and suicide vests, to enter the base perimeter.
Lt Col Thornton, awoken by the blast, immediately ensured 100% accountability of his airmen, then coordinated transit to squadron operations while the base was under fire in order to take command of the next formation of F-16s to launch. After arrival at the squadron, Lt Col Thornton coordinated a counter-attack plan with the base Joint Terminal Air Controller (JTAC), labelling buildings to construct a common operating picture.
While the base was still under fire, Lt Col Thornton and his wingman departed squadron operations for the F-16 ramp to launch as quickly as possible. Lt Col Thornton deconflicted in real-time with the Bagram tower controller and the JTAC to launch directly into the fight. For three hours, Lt Col Thornton monitored the dynamic ground situation, relayed movement of the Haqanni team, executed “yo-yo” tanker operations to ensure one F-16 remained overhead at all times, while simultaneously developing multiple attack options for the ground commander. Later on in the fight he balanced integrating an additional two F-16s into his formation.
Due to unexpected nature of the mission and the urgency of the launch, Lt Col Thornton and his wingman were without night vision goggles, reverting to purely visual formations at night as the weather rapidly deteriorated with ceilings below the mountain peaks around Bagram. Critically low on fuel, Lt Col Thornton flawlessly orchestrated a 4-ship near simultaneous delivery, destroying a building on Bagram that was under enemy control. Lt Col Thornton then deconflicted and postured incoming fighter aircraft for follow-on attacks, effectively ending the 14-hour long firefight. As a result of the mission, all enemy attackers were eliminated.
Lt Col Thornton’s distinctive leadership and skill demonstrated during this action is recognised by the award of the Master’s Medal.
During the summer of 2020, Number II (Army Cooperation) Squadron were deployed on ‘Op Shader’, flying armed Typhoon missions protecting Iraq and Syria from the threat of Islamic State attack.
On 8th July Flight Lieutenant Matthew Douglas was the leader of a pair of Typhoons flying a night-time mission over Iraq. Operating over an hour’s flight from their home base on a moonless night, they were reliant on air-to-air refuelling to complete their task of providing armed overwatch of an Iraqi air base. Intelligence indicated an increased threat of attack following recent rocket strikes.
Douglas carefully coordinated his formation to search the surrounding area. Thirty minutes into the task his internal cockpit lights failed fully bright, causing dazzling glare. Simultaneously his external lights failed off, increasing the risk of mid-air collision with another aircraft in theatre. However, noting the significant threat to ground forces that night he selflessly put their protection first and with careful mitigation, he continued to provide air support. Over the ensuing hour Douglas’ aircraft suffered increasingly severe electrical failures, culminating in indications of an aircraft ladder having deployed directly in front of his intakes. With potential engine damage, Douglas had no choice but to divert to the very air base he was charged with protecting, despite the increased threat of attack.
Declaring an in-flight emergency he commenced his descent. At this point his radios began to fail and he lost control of the critical fuel system. With utter professionalism and exceptional airmanship he remained unfazed and descended into the threat envelope for a precautionary single-engine landing. Safely down and parked up, he attempted to open his canopy. Due to the electrical failures it remained firmly locked. He was now trapped in a cockpit with an ambient temperature of 41°C and no cooling. In the temperate UK with engineering support, this situation is dangerous and complex requiring swift action and specialist tooling to release a pilot prior to incapacitation. Instead Douglas was alone with unfamiliar foreign groundcrew who had no knowledge of his situation. An available option was to jettison the canopy, but he knew this risked death to anyone it struck. Desperate to avoid this, he calmly explained to air traffic control the nature of his predicament, drawing diagrams on scraps of paper to show the groundcrew how to attempt assistance.
Having already dealt with an emergency landing, his patience and courage in a time-pressured, potentially life-threatening situation were remarkable. After eight hours in the cockpit, as the internal temperature became dangerously high, Douglas requested fire crews attempt to cut him free rather than risk jettisoning the canopy. With the cutter inches from his head his eyes were affected by the fine canopy dust, but success ensued. Despite his physical discomfort, Douglas carefully made-safe his bombs and sent a report to base, before administering to his own needs.
During this traumatic event, Douglas showed exceptional bravery despite escalating danger, intent on saving his aircraft and limiting the risk to those he was charged to protect. He is accordingly awarded the Master’s Medal.
1976 F A Laker Esq
1977 awarded twice
Captain J Schuman (posthumously) and Herr J Veito of Lufthansa Flight 181
The Royal Air Force Red Arrow Aerobatic Team
1985 Captain John Testrake
1986 PO ACMN L Slater
1987 R Branson Esq and Per Lindstrand
1988 Captain S Yousif
1989 not awarded
1990 FO A Atchison
1991 Miss H Sharman
1992 not awarded
1993 Captain E J Wyer
1994 not awarded
1995 Air Cdre A N Nicholson OBE QHS RAF
1996 - 1998 not awarded
1999 Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard of the Breitling Orbiter 3
2000 not awarded
2001 Polly Vacher
2002 Caroline Gough-Cooper and Imogen Asker
2003 David K Hempleman-Adams OBE
2004 HMS ENDURANCE
2005 Not Awarded
2006 The crew of 7 Flt AAC - WOI1 Challis (Aircraft Commander), Sgt Khanlarian and Cpl Leah
2007 Awarded twice:
Apache Patrol Members of 656 Sqn AAC
POACM James O'Donnell QGM
2008 not awarded
2009 Awarded twice:
The Crew of US Airways Flight 1549
Captain Charles "Chalkie" Stobbart
2010 Awarded twice:
Captain Michael Fairhurst and First Officer James Brown
Captain Stephen Noujaim
2011 Lt Cdr William Strickland USCG
2012 David "Wheely Dave" Sykes
2013 Awarded twice:
Lt Cdr Vincent Jansen USCG
Sgt Rachael Robinson QGM
2014 not awarded
2015 Solar Impulse - Dr Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg
2016 Awarded twice:
Timothy Peake CMG BSc(Hons)
2017 Awarded twice:
Flt Sgt Mike Rowlands
Cdr Matthew Grindon RN
2018 not awarded
2019 Awarded to:
Winchman Paramedic Carlton Real
Wg Cdr Rob Caine MBE MA RAF
2020 Flt Lt Richard Davoren RAF
2021 Awarded twice:
Lt Col Adam Thornton USAF
Flt Lt Matthew Douglas RAF
INCORPORATED BY ROYAL CHARTER
PATRON: HRH THE PRINCE OF WALES KG KT GCB OM
MASTER: CAPTAIN ROBIN B KEEGAN FRAeS
CLERK: PAUL J TACON BA FCIS
© 2022 The Honourable Company of Air Pilots