Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Barksdale pilots to join in Hawgsmoke competition

Kansas meeting determines top A-10 pilots, squadrons

Shreveport Times

By John Andrew Prime
October 13, 2008 2:00 am

Pilots from Barksdale Air Force Base's 917th Wing will take part in the biennial Hawgsmoke competition, to take place this week in Kansas.

The competition to determine the best A-10 pilots and squadrons will be Wednesday through Saturday in Salina, Kan., with the 303rd Fighter Squadron, from the 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., the host unit.

"We'll be sending four of our pilots, and Detachment 1 will be using our planes, too," said Jessica D'Aurizio, spokeswoman for the 917th Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, whose storied 47th Fighter Squadron is the schoolhouse for A-10 pilots. Det. 1 is the unit's presence at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

The local pilots who will take part are Lt. Col. Michael Schultz, Lt. Col. Ed Sommers, Maj. Michael Bachtel and Maj. Garret Povar, D'Aurizio said.

The bombing and gunnery competition will take place in spite of wing cracks that have grounded about 130 "thin wing" models of the service's roughly 400 operational A-10s.

That grounding, which won't be lifted until all the airplanes are inspected and repaired, is why the airplanes are being shared by units.

An order to identify and repair the fatigue-related cracks was issued about a week ago, and affects seven of the airplanes with the 917th Wing.

The airplanes are affectionately called the "Warthog" by the men and women who fly the tough little airplane, and the nickname is why the competition is called Hawgsmoke.

The airplane's official name is the Thunderbolt II, in tribute to its role as the successor to the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter of World War II. Ironically, the airplane has more a legacy tie to the German Junkers Ju-87 Stuka than the P-47.

During the first tactical and conventional gunnery competition open to A-10s, Hawgsmoke 2000, the 47th Fighter Squadron took first-place awards as the top Hawgsmoke Tactical Unit, for Top Overall Pilot and Top Overall Tactical Pilot. In 2002, it won honors as the Top A-10 Squadron in the world.

The school graduates about 40 students a year from active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units worldwide.

"After talking to most of the other A-10 wings in the Air Force, we have more than enough teams committed to competing at Hawgsmoke to continue with the event," said Col. Mark Clemons, the 442nd's commander. "Safety is paramount, and this (repair order) will ensure we provide the safest possible aircraft to our A-10 pilots. We have plenty of aircraft to support Hawgsmoke and maintain the 442nd Fighter Wing's combat readiness."

Hawgsmoke pits A-10 pilots and maintainers from across the service to determine a single-unit "Hawgsmoke Champion."

Wing officials originally expected about 70 A-10 aircraft to attend the event, but the inspections have reduced that number to 25 to 30 airplanes, which is why Barksdale's pilots are "hot-rotating" the airplanes. Organizers expect as many as 14 teams of pilots to compete, and it will be official policy to share the aircraft.

"The inspections have forced us to reduce the number of aircraft, but we are still expecting 250 to 300 people," said Lt. Col. Brian Borgen, Hawgsmoke coordinator. "We will basically share the limited number of aircraft among the pilots from all the teams."

Air Force officials say the A-10 wing issue is representative of systemic problems for the aging Air Force fleet. It isn't the first airplane threatened by the inevitable weakening of metal subjected to continual flight stresses. The useful C-141 Starlifter transport suffered fatigue problems that limited the type's service ceiling at first and then finally resulted in the fleet being eliminated from service.

The A-10 is a ground-attack aircraft designed to support ground forces in combat. It can carry 16,000 pounds of ordnance and is equipped with a 30-mm cannon capable of punching through tank armor.

Maj. David Kurle of 442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs contributed to this story.


No comments:

Post a Comment