Saturday, May 29, 2010

'Warthogs' scrambled

May 28, 2010
By Lauren Boyer
The Patriot-News

The A-10 fighter aircraft is nicknamed the "Warthog," pilots say, because it's ugly.

But when it comes to heavily armored 25,000-pound planes with 30 mm canons -- specifically built for going low and killing tanks -- beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

"It's really not that pretty of an airplane, but I think it's the most beautiful plane in the world," said Maj. Scot Zamolyi of the 111th Air National Guard fighter wing at Willow Grove Air Reserve Station.

For the last time, Zamolyi, 42, hopped in the cockpit of an A-10, which can fire 70 rounds per second, and cruised the 20-minute flight from the base near Philadelphia to Fort Indiantown Gap's 2,000-acre Bollen Range impact area on Wednesday.

The 111th, the only fighter wing in Pennsylvania, is shutting down June 6, a victim of the Pentagon's 2005 decision to close Willow Grove as part of its 2005 base realignment efforts.

The 86-year-old unit includes about 1,000 guardsmen, mostly in the Philadelphia area. About 300 of them will lose their jobs. Zamolyi is employed as a range operations officer at Bollen Range.

On Thursday, he commanded a training session with three A-10s from a booth on top of a nine-story metal tower swaying in the wind.

As the wing dissolves, its remaining five A-10 fighters will be redistributed to out-of-state Guard units.

"I've always known this is what I wanted to do," Zamolyi said. "It's hard giving it up. I've enjoyed every last minute of it."

Along with tours overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, Zamolyi and his colleagues see the sports world by air, soaring over Philadelphia Eagles games, Philadelphia Phillies games, and Pocono Raceway events when military flyovers are requested.

Now, those A-10 flyovers will have to come from other states or other Pennsylvania National Guard airplanes, public affairs officer Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver said.

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard still has two flying units, the 193rd Air Special Operations Wing in Middletown and the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Pittsburgh.

In 2005, Gov. Ed Rendell filed suit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, challenging the attempt to deactivate the branch without his gubernatorial approval.

On Aug. 26, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that portion of the base realignment report was "null and void" for violating federal law requiring the approval of a governor.

That same day, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission ruled that, while the unit would remain at Willow Grove as part of a military enclave, the 111th's A-10 aircraft would be distributed to other units in 2009 and 2010.

Zamolyi said he might try to find work flying A-10s in another state.

"[The 111th wing] is just like a family. It's definitely a loss," he said. "This is the end of an era."


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