Friday, July 1, 2011
Flying Tigers snarl for 70 years
Maj. Loren Coulter exits an A-10C Thunderbolt II, Jan. 11, 2011, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.The tiger teeth painted on the aircraft is distinctive nose art only authorized to the Flying Tigers, a unit celebrating its 70th anniversary on July 4, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Willard E. Grande II) Hi-res
by Tech Sgt. Emily F. Alley
451st AEW Public Affairs
7/1/2011 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which dates its history to a group of contracted prior-military pilots who flew against Japan in World War II, is scheduled to celebrate its 70th anniversary this July 4.
At Kandahar Airfield, current members reflected on how the work of previous crews helped to make the squadron innovative and iconic. It is the only group in the Air Force authorized to paint tiger shark teeth on the nose of each of its aircraft.
"You feel like you're walking into combat history," said Capt. Richard Olson, who has been a Flying Tiger pilot for about a year. "There are famous names, guys who shot down MiGs. This is their stuff, their history."
The hallway outside the offices of the 74th EFS at KAF is lined with photos and hand-written lists of crews and call signs. The squadron dates back to 1941, making it older than the Air Force itself. Even though the hallways of KAF only dates back to the few years the squadron has been flying out of Afghanistan, it's a historic list.
Olson was impressed to be working directly with Flying Tiger pilots such as 451 Air Expeditionary Wing commander Brig. Gen Paul T. Johnson, who was awarded the Air Force Cross for helping to save a crew of Airmen who had been shot down in 1991. Gen. Johnson also completed a landmark 3,000 flight hours during his final flight last month.
For many of the pilots, however, they remember the people they've worked with more than the missions.
"Most of them, their stories aren't about combat," said Olson, as he recalled a recent Flying Tiger reunion, which was attended by the few living members of the original World War II squadron.
They vividly retold the story of a donkey that wondered onto the runway and was almost hit by one of their aircraft, he said.
"It was a funny story about the guys, the people they worked with and they remembered it for 70 years," said Olson.
Those relationships, the camaraderie built between generations of pilots, fostered communication that allowed for innovation and helped make the A-10 an adaptable aircraft.
"They're big on passing lessons learned. They passed down everything they learned," said Maj. Craig Morash, a current Flying Tiger pilot. "We're trained and we spend time to understand the picture, the stress the people on the ground are under. Our mission is to get between the guy shooting and our guys on the ground."
Soldiers have visited 74 EFS meetings in the past to express their gratitude and tell stories of how the squadron helped them during attacks.
"The Army defaults every airplane to an A-10," said Staff Sgt. Angel Montes, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller who calls in air support for Soldiers, who have specifically requested the aircraft when they've needed air support.
The JTAC Airmen were impressed by the A-10s, who have an intuitive understanding how best to support ground patrols. They fly low, for example, and aptly select the weapon that fits each unique mission, said Airman 1st Class Justin Jackson, also a JTAC.
"It's over as soon as an A-10 shows up. Your day is made," said Montes. "They live up to their nose art. They're aggressive and they push to benefit the guys on the ground."
Crew chiefs install pins on an A-10C Thunderbolt II, Jan. 11, 2011, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The tiger teeth painted on the aircraft is distinctive nose art only authorized to the Flying Tigers, a unit celebrating its 70th anniversary on July 4, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Willard E. Grande II) Hi-res
An A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot lands at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan Sept. 27, 2010. Throughout 2010, all the flying units under the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing collectively flew nearly 37,000 sorties, supporting more than 1,000 troops in contact on the ground, and saving close to 2,000 people on rescue missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Chad Chisholm) Hi-res