Friday, October 15, 2010

Local pilots in A-10 competition

By John Andrew Prime
October 15, 2010

Pilots from the Air Force Reserve Command's 917th Wing are in Boise, Idaho, this week, competing with other pilots from throughout the service to determine who are the best pilots driving the "Warthawg," the A-10 attack jet.

"This is a good opportunity for us to meet and compete with the best of our band of brothers in the Hawg community," said Lt. Col. James Travis, 47th Fighter Squadron commander, who is at Hawgsmoke with the four-pilot team representing the local wing. Competition began Wednesday and ends Saturday, with the pilots flying home Sunday.

The local pilots involved are Lt. Col. Robert Hetland and captains Jason Cobb, Grant McCall and Andrew Ratican. All are with the 47th Fighter Squadron, which descends from a unit that sent numerous pilots to meet Japanese attackers over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. Cobb, Hetland and Ratican are reservists; McCall is active-duty temporarily assigned to the squadron, which is a schoolhouse for A-10 pilots.

"We are in the conversion process of becoming combat coded and changing to the C Model A-10," Travis said. "This offers us the perfect opportunity to hone our skills and challenge the new technology that is currently being used in the Global War on Terror."

The competition, held every two years, traces its heritage to Gunsmoke, the Air Force's air-to-ground gunnery and bombing competition, last held in 1995.

This year, its host is the Idaho Air National Guard's 190th Fighter Squadron. In 2004, it was flown out of England Air Park, the former England Air Force Base in Alexandria, which once was home to a major A-10 presence. Louisiana's famed wet weather rolled in and disrupted flight so much that the event was called "Hawgwash" by the disappointed pilots, and despite 18 teams and more than 70 aircraft, no one was named winner.

The first Hawgsmoke was in 2000 at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in Michigan and was hosted by the Michigan Air National Guard's 172nd Fighter Squadron. Hawgsmoke 2002 was held out of the Fort Drum Forward Operating Location in New York state. That year's event ended with the four-pilot team from Barksdale's 47th Fighter Squadron emerging victorious, leading to the wet event held in Alexandria in 2004. In 2006, the 355th Fighter Wing sponsored the competition at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. At that, the 303d Fighter Squadron from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., was named winner.


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