By Joachim Jacob, Warthog News Editor
During the last couple of days I already posted first info about the departure of the six A-10Cs from the 81st Fighter Squadron "Panthers", 52nd Fighter Wing (USAFE), Spangdahlem AB, Germany, which participated in exercise REAL THAW 2013, held at Monte Real Air Base, Portugal. See: Three more 81st Fighter Sqadron A-10Cs leaving Spangdahlem? 81st Fighter Squadron A-10Cs departed Monte Real after exercise REAL THAW 2013 (posted February 22, 2013)
But for a while I wasn't 100 percent sure which "Hogs" returned to "Spang" and which went to Lajes Field, Azores, for stopover enroute Continental United States (CONUS) due to the upcoming deactivation of the 81st Fighter Squadron. Because zero serial number verification showed up neither on the Dutch Scramble Messageboard nor on the German Flugzeugforum, over the last weekend I asked some of my personal contacts for additional photo proofs and related background info.
A look back:
On Friday, February 22, 2013, aviation photographer Marco Casaleiro from Portugal (who reported exclusively on Warthog News during the exercise) told me via e-mail [edited by Warthog News]: Three-ship slot 1 (A-10Cs 81-0981, 81-0962, 82-0650) took off 09H26 but returned to base and landed again 11H52. Three-ship slot 2 (A-10Cs 82-0654, 81-0966, 82-0656) took off 10H55. Three-ship slot 1 (A-10Cs 81-0981, 81-0962, 82-0650) took off again 16H00 for final departure. On the same day, 17:07, RAMA_77 (user name) posted on the Dutch Scramble Messageboard: Today one flt A10s Retro 01; 02; 03 as Op Coronet East 050 dep from LPMR to LPLA, supp one tanker KC135 Blue51; and one flt A10s Retro 04; 05; 06 dep from LPMR to ETAD (home), supp one tanker KC135 Quid 79 Related to that I was nearly sure which of the six "Hogs" left "Spang" forever. But there was still no photo proof. And I'm a big fan of photo proofs because there were much mistakes in the past again and again due to ("last-minute") changes of original flight plans And so, I was very surprised by a picture taken by aviation journalist Neil Dunridge from the U.K., originally posted on his own Facebook timeline and later shared on Warthog Territory's Facebook page and also on my Facebook page. This rare close-up shot (already posted on Warthog News's Facebook page) pictures A-10C 81-0981, marked 81 FS as the 81st Fighter Squadron commander's aircraft, during exercise REAL THAW 2013 at Monte Real Air Base, Portugal, carrying TWO (!) Sniper XR targeting pods.
At first, I asked Marco for any more departure pictures. In a prompt response, he e-mailed me the following two additional pictures and told me [edited by Warthog News]: On the day of the departures the slot 81-0981, 81-0962, 82-0650, took off always clean without targeting pods. The group 82-0654, 81-0966, 82-0656 took off loaded with two targeting pods, as you can see in the photos.
A-10Cs 82-0654 and 81-0966, carrying two Sniper XR targeting pods, taxiing to the end of runway just before departure. (Photo by Marco Casaleiro) Full size
A-10Cs 81-0966 and 82-0656, carrying two Sniper XR targeting pods, taxiing to the end of runway just before departure. (Photo by Marco Casaleiro) Full size
This was the proof I wanted! And now it's clear: A-10Cs 82-0654, 81-0966 and 82-0656 returned home to "Spang", bringing back to base all six Sniper XR targeting pods, used by the six "Hogs" which participated in the exercise. In a Facebook message Neil told me: 650, 962 and 981 were ready to go Thursday but the winds stopped them departing. No idea when they RTB on Friday as I was home by then, on Thursday 650 and 962 didn't have any pods.
Please note: Much more related exclusive info will be posted later today. I will also post additional official A-10C REAL THAW 2013 USAF photos, meanwhile released online by RAF Mildenhall Public Affairs and DVIDS - Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System