Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A-10 pilots take to Bulgarian skies during "Reunion April 2009"

A-10 81-0980 from the 81st Fighter Squadron taxis down the runway to take off on a training mission with Bulgarian SU-25s parked in the background at Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria. The Spangdahlem A-10s deployed here to support "Reunion April 2009" a U.S. and Bulgarian Air Forces joint training exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Hi-res

by Tech. Sgt. Tammie Moore
52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office

4/21/2009 - BEZMER AIR BASE, Bulgaria -- U.S. and Bulgarian Air Force pilots are honing their close air support and combat search and rescue skills during "Reunion April 2009" at Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria, April 7-28.

While the joint training exercise was a reunion for Bulgarian and American partnership efforts, this is the first time the 81st FS has trained in Bulgaria.

The 81st FS was originally scheduled to train in another country; however, due to some unexpected obstacles, the location was changed to Bulgaria.

"It was not decided until February to come here, and essentially the Bulgarians agreed immediately knocking down all of the road blocks to make it happen," said Col. David Wilmot, U.S. Defense and Air Attaché to Bulgaria. "The amazing part was that even though it was a late add-on by the U.S. Air Force, the Bulgarian government did not hesitate."

Bulgaria offers many unique training opportunities for the Thunderbolt II pilots.

"It is an excellent place to perform our mission and to practice low altitude training," said 1st Lt. Priscilla Giddings, 81st FS pilot. "For the past week, we have been the only aircraft airborne, so we have a huge operating area. We can fly from the surface up to 24,000 feet running though all of our training requirements."

The opportunity to train with the SU-25, an aircraft designed for the same purpose as the A-10, is something the pilots appreciate.

"It has been an amazing opportunity," Lieutenant Giddings said. "They perform together very well because we have similar airspeeds, limitations and capabilities."

In addition to flying with the SU-25s, the pilots have also participated in training scenarios with Mig-29s and AS-532ALs.

"Some of our compatriots who fly air-to-air never get this opportunity," said Lt. Col. Timothy Hogan, 81st FS commander. "It has been very unique for us to be here and sit down to discuss tactics, techniques and procedures. It is fantastic."

Colonel Wilmot believes the Airmen who deployed here will leave with more than just increased technical expertise.

The most important part of this is what the pilots, maintainers and other Airmen are going to learn about each other and the relationships they will build, Colonel Wilmot said. "This is going to go a long way in solidifying the relationship between the two countries."

If the 81st FS is invited back to Bezmer, Maj. Benjamin Griffith is just one of the pilots here who said he would jump at the chance to return.

"I think any A-10 pilot would jump at the opportunity to come back to Bezmer and accomplish this exercise again," he said. "The training here is really outstanding in terms of weather, lack of airspace restrictions, freedom of movement and a range we could use on a daily basis to deploy weapons -- all of these are available at Bezmer."

A-10 82-0646 from the 81st Fighter Squadron fires ammunition during a training mission over Novo Selo Training Range, Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Hi-res

1st Lt. Patrick Parrish, 81st Fighter Squadron pilot, suits up and prepares to fly on a training mission over Novo Selo Training Range, Bulgaria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Hi-res

Capt. Vladislav Todorov, a Bulgarian SU-25 pilot, explains the SU-25 cockpit to 1st Lt. Priscilla Giddings, 81st Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot April 15, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Hi-res

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Watson, 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament systems technician, demonstrates A-10 armament equipment to Col. Pete Maynard. Colonel Maynard toured Bezmer Air Base April 17, 2009. He was recently assigned to the Bulgarian Defense Attaché Office. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Gomez) Hi-res


Related info:
81st Fighter Squadron A-10s went to Bulgaria for exercise

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