Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hill beefs up the A-10 Warthog after 2008 grounding

By Mitch Shaw

Standard-Examiner Davis Bureau
Last Edit: Feb 2 2010 - 2:42pm

HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- One of the best ground support aircraft the military has to offer is getting a significant life-span extension at Hill Air Force Base.

Thee 38-year-old A-10 Thunderbolt II, commonly known as the Warthog, is undergoing procedures at Hill to prolong its service life.

As part of the Air Force's Service Life Extension Program, the close air support plane is receiving wing inspection and repairs that officials say will increase its life span from 8,000 to 16,000 flying hours.

Crews are also working on the plane's tail, fuselage and engine.

"The big picture with the A-10 is that it's a big part of making sure we meet our military requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Jim Marx, a logistics management specialist at the base. "So we're focused on sustaining and modifying it to improve the life of the wing."

With approximately 350 A-10s in service, Marx estimates about 90 percent of the Air Force's fleet has gone through the SLEP.

The A-10's strong airframe can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high-explosive projectiles, making it essential in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We don't want to disparage the F-16, because it's over there (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and has an incredible capability," Marx said. "But the A-10 can go into a mountain valley and go really slow and maneuver around. That's really different than the F-16, which by nature has to go fast."

The aircraft has mechanical and flight systems that allow pilots to fly and land even after hydraulic power or part of a wing is lost.

"It's just an amazing and important plane," said Rick Merrill, A-10 production chief at Hill. "What it does for the troops who are on the ground is invaluable."

In October 2008, when the Air Force called for a mass grounding of A-10s after discovering wing cracks in the older models of the plane, Hill began immediate inspections and repairs of the Warthogs.

The planes in which the cracks were found were built before 1980 and were equipped with "thin-skin" wings.

In 2011, Hill will begin to replace all thin-skin wings with a thick-skin model.

"The difference in the wings is simply one has more material," Marx said. "The more material you have, the more durable they will be."

By 2015 or 2016, Marx said, the Air Force will have replaced all of the old wings and will have one thick-skin configuration.

In addition to what it means for troops on the ground, it means almost as much for the base's workload.

Merrill said the base will work on approximately 110 A-10 aircraft in fiscal year 2010, a figure that doesn't include drop-in or unexpected maintenance.

"The A-10 workload does a lot of good for this community," Merrill said.

"If you look at it from an economic standpoint, we employ 325 people to perform maintenance and upgrades. That's a pretty big impact."


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