Thursday, July 1, 2010

'Warthogs' wondrous to 122nd

A-10 fighter jets arrive at Air National Guard base

Caitlin Johnston
The Journal Gazette

FORT WAYNE – The skies will be a little quieter over Fort Wayne and the headquarters of the 122nd Fighter Wing.

Four A-10 fighter jets landed on the ramp at the Air National Guard base on Wednesday. The jets are the first wave in a process of phasing out F-16s and replacing them with A-10s from across the country.

"They make a lot less noise than the F-16," pilot Lt. Col. Rob Myer said. "They'll make a friendly neighbor."

The four fighter jets made their approach shortly after 2:30 p.m. from Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga. The sound turned heads before the jets were in sight. From a distance, they looked like a single entity moving through the sky. They flew over the base, banking and making another pass, before they peeled off one by one to land.

The soft roar announced their presence in their new home. They taxied in, passing a lone, phased-out F-16, dwarfing it in size, wingspan and payload.

Goodbye, F-16 – the A-10 "Warthog" has arrived in Fort Wayne.

The A-10, at times referred to as the Tankbuster, is like a tank in the sky. It can sustain high damage while unleashing a heavy munitions payload. Unlike the F-16, which can be used in air-to-air combat, the A-10's mission is to provide support for troops on the ground.

Exiting the titanium cockpit, pilot Lt. Col. John Carroll pulled himself up from the seat and wiped his brow. As he made his way down the ladder, his family approached. Two kids sprinted toward him, jumping into his arms.

Carroll's father, sporting a button-up shirt covered with American flag print, watched his son reunite with his kids.

"I gave up on trying to take pictures of you flying," he said.

'A fighter unit'

The 122nd Fighter Wing has included many different jets since it first came to Fort Wayne in 1942.

"From where we've come from to where we are now, we've always been a fighter unit," Master Sgt. Darin Hubble said.

The F-16s will be sent to the boneyard in Arizona and dismantled for parts, or sent to other bases.

"Nothing goes to waste," Hubble said.

The F-16s look like lawn darts on the ramp compared with the more substantial Warthogs.

"We have the fast, really good-looking, sleek aircraft over there," Carroll said, gesturing to the F-16. "And this is big ugly."

But with that massive jet, Carroll said, pilots can point, shoot and take care of business in a heartbeat.

The greater wingspan and overall size mean the A-10 doesn't fit into hangars as comfortably as the old F-16s.

"We fit a lot less of them in the hanger," Vice Wing Cmdr. Chris Luithly said. "We're trying to work to get shelters out there on the ramp."

Although the Warthogs are durable, the jets can be damaged by thunderstorms, hail and winter weather. With the current arrangements, the base will have to build more shelters as more A-10s arrive.

Perhaps the biggest change comes in the type of missions for the 122nd. The rugged, pilot-friendly airplane has twice the payload of an F-16. It was designed to fly low, stay close to ground troops and bring ordnance to bear in air-support missions.

The A-10 is much slower but can carry more bombs and has 12 weapons stations to the F-16's two or four.

"I'll miss it," Lt. Col. Myer said, regarding the air-to-air capabilities of the F-16. "But there's not much more gratifying than helping guys on the ground."

A long process

As for the men and women stationed at the base, bringing in the A-10s will be a slow transition.

"It's a long process," Carroll said. "This is just the beginning."

In addition to the time needed to receive more planes, the pilots and maintenance crews have to go through training. This means more time at the base and less time abroad the next couple of years.

"We've got another two years before we're ready to go overseas," Luithly said.

The transition makes the 122nd Fighter Wing more viable as a unit, as the A-10 has a long flying life ahead of it compared with the dying breed of the F-16.

"The fact that this airplane is on the ramp and that airplane is leaving is huge to the base and the community," Carroll said.

Four A-10 "Warthog" fighter jets fly over the Air National Guard base on Wednesday. The base is converting from F-16 jets to the A-10. (Photo by Jak Wonderly, The Journal Gazette)

Pilot Lt. Col. John Carroll said the A-10 is "much quieter" than the F-16. The Warthog also carries many more weapons. (Photo by Jak Wonderly, The Journal Gazette)


Please watch the associated video (by Cathie Rowand, running time 1:29). Clear visible are A-10s 944 and 598.

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