Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A-10 pilots test skills, share tactics at Hawgsmoke 2010

A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from units across the Air Force lined up on the ramp at Gowen Air National Guard Base, Idaho, for Hawgsmoke 2010 Oct. 13 to 16. Hawgsmoke is a bienial competition among the U.S. Air Force's A-10 squadrons that tests pilots' bombing, gunnery, navigation and aviation skills. The 2010 competition was hosted by the 124th Fighter Wing, Idaho Air National Guard, at Gowen Air National Guard Base, Idaho. The 124th FW's 190th Fighter Squadron won the competition just as it did in 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. David Kurle) Hi-res

by Lt. Col. David Kurle
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/19/2010 - BOISE, Idaho -- BOISE, Idaho -- While they didn't walk away with the Hawgsmoke 2010 trophy, members of the 442nd Fighter Wing's 303rd and 76th Fighter Squadrons did reap plenty of other rewards from the event held at Gowen Air National Guard Base here Oct. 13 to 16.

"The focus is the competition but there are plenty of other benefits to being here," said Maj. Olivia Elliott, 303rd FS A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot who attended her first Hawgsmoke.

A-10 pilots from across the Air Force use the biennial event to develop professionally, improve their aviation skills, share ideas and enjoy camaraderie, she said.

"As rules of engagement change, tactics have to change with that, and this is a good chance to sit down in a relaxed environment and discuss what works," Major Elliott said.

The 303rd Fighter Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Brian Borgen, agreed.

"Late at night I watched four tactics discussions between senior pilots and junior pilots that wouldn't have happened in a more formal setting," Colonel Borgen said.

Hawgsmoke tests A-10 pilots from the active duty, Reserve and Air National Guard in a competition that includes air-to-ground gunnery, bombing, AGM-65 Maverick missile employment, formation-flying and navigation events.

"It's good to get together in a more informal, relaxed setting to keep people motivated and focused so when we get back to home-station we can maintain our very busy operations tempo," said Col. Gregory Eckfeld, the commander of the 442nd FW's 476th Fighter Group at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

"Hawgsmoke gives us a chance to network with other A-10 units and find out how those other units conduct our business," Colonel Eckfeld said. "This is a very unique event - no other community does this."

Even senior leaders at the wing, group and squadron levels got together at Hawgsmoke to discuss the future of A-10 operations across the Air Force, according to Colonel Eckfeld.

The Idaho ANG's 124th FW, based here, hosted the event - a task assigned to it after pilots from the wing's 190th FS won Hawgsmoke 2008 hosted by the 303rd FS in Salina, Kan.

"I got a great hand-off from the folks at Whiteman (AFB, Mo.) after the 2008 Hawgsmoke," said Lt. Col. Ronnie Kaufman, the plans officer for the 124th FW, who served as the project officer for Hawgsmoke 2010.

"They were able to point me in the right direction with sponsors and products," he said. "On top of that, all our prayers were answered as far as weather."

The weather at the Saylor Creek Bombing Range, east of Boise, was clear and mild for the flying portions of the competition Oct. 14 as teams of four A-10s from squadrons around the Air Force dropped practice bombs, fired 30mm rounds at targets on the ground and targeted moving vehicles with inert Maverick missiles.

A crowd of more than 150 people cheered the pilots from bleachers set up at the range as the sound of the A-10s' 30mm cannons ripped the air apart. The pilots flew their aircraft low to employ the "Warthog's" primary weapon.

"This is really awesome," said Major Elliott, who watched the competition from the ground because she was not on the four-person team representing the 303rd FS.

"The competition is not just about how well we can use all the gadgets on the A-10, but how well we can use degraded systems - it's more old-school flying," she said.

Hawgsmoke's rules force pilots to use their skills as aviators rather than relying on the airplane's electronics, Major Elliott explained.

Other reservists from the 442nd FW, including maintainers, services specialists and public affairs Airmen, joined the 303rd FS pilots at Hawgsmoke 2010.

"(Hawgsmoke) is definitely a pilot thing," said Tech. Sgt. Pete Melby, 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "But it's still a competition for us."

"There's a certain amount of pride involved when you see our jets next to all the other A-10s from across the Air Force," he said.

The maintainers earned their keep primarily through launching and recovering A-10s flying in the competition, as well as taking care of maintenance problems that cropped up.

One of the biggest maintenance headaches resulted when a 442nd FW A-10 developed a hydraulic leak.

"We were starting up (the No. 2 engine) and heard a big 'goussch'," said Staff Sgt. John Tischhauser, A-10 crew chief. "The left-main (landing) gear was just coated in hydraulic fluid."

Four reservists from the 442nd Services Flight drove more than 1,400 miles with 500 pounds of meat and 10 gallons of baked beans so they could serve dinner to more than 300 people Oct. 14.

"Since we'd already done a Hawgsmoke previously, who better to lend a hand?" said Master. Sgt. Ralph Kowski, 442nd Services Flight.

The Fishnet Securities barbecue team donated and helped prepare the food, but Senior Master Sgt. Travis Stickels, Tech. Sgt. David Lawson, Airman Jennifer Rehmer and Sergeant Kowski served it to hungry A-10 pilots.

The 2010 host, the 124th FW, will organize the event in 2012 because, once again, the Idaho ANG's 190th FS was declared the winner of this year's Hawgsmoke - the first unit to win back-to-back competitions.

"It's a great honor to host this competition," said Col. James R. Compton, 124th FW commander. "These are some of the finest warriors in the A-10 business."

A 442nd Fighter Wing A-10 Thunderbolt II takes off from Gowen Air National Guard Base, Idaho, Oct. 14 on its way to the Sayler Creek Bombing Range, near Boise, during Hawgsmoke 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. David Kurle) Hi-res


Please note: More associated pictures will be uploaded soon.

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