11/06/05 — Hog in the sky

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Hog in the sky

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 6, 2005 2:19 AM

It might not look like other sleek jets used by the U.S. Air Force, and the name "A-10 Warthog" does not quite have the same ring as "F-15 Strike Eagle."

But when you are in a battle, seeing an A-10 hovering over your position might be a pretty welcome sight, especially if your ground troops are in a pretty tight spot, the plane's pilots say.

There is no mistaking the plane's fire power or its combat readiness, said 1st Lt. Brian Erickson, one of the members of the A-10 Warthog East Coast Demo Team.

Based out of Pope Air Force Base, the demo team, which consists of Erickson, who serves as the pilot and safety observer, another pilot, a team chief, narrator and two crew chiefs, travels the nation performing in exercises and air shows.

The team was in town this weekend as part of the Wings Over Wayne air show, one of many acts that wowed crowds at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

From the pilot's perspective, the A-10 is enjoyable because of the plane's maneuverability, Erickson said. The long, narrow wings of the aircraft allow the A-10 to fly at slower air speeds, but still allows the aircraft to avoid enemy fire from a low altitude because of its tight-turning capabilities, Erickson said.

However, every pilot can appreciate the A-10's armor.

"With the A-10's dual engines and armor, it's notorious for surviving battle damage that would be lethal to other aircraft," Erickson said.

With only five active squadrons, the number of A-10 pilots and crews is significantly smaller than other aircraft communities, Erickson said. However, the weaponry of the aircraft makes up for its limited numbers in the battlefield.

The A-10 is most famous for its 30mm machine gun. As one of the largest guns used in the Air Force, the weapon also requires one of the largest bullets.

"The bullet has a diameter close to a silver dollar," Erickson said, "and about the length of a Coke bottle."

For combat, the machine gun is equipped with armor-piercing rounds that are able to penetrate a tank. If the bullets are unable to complete the mission, Erickson said the A-10 is stocked with plenty of bombs that can finish the job.

The aircraft is able to carry either 500- or 1,000-pound bombs. These include laser-guided, cluster munition or high explosive incendiary. Although it is the goal of each A-10 pilot to only engage ground targets, Erickson said the jet is equipped with infrared air-to-air missiles in case the plane encounters an airborne enemy.

"We don't go out in search of air-to-air combat," he said. "Our purpose is to defend and support."

That purpose was put to the test earlier this year when two A-10 Thunderbolt Is successfully broke up an ambush on a military convoy in Afghanistan.

In August, a convoy of seven vehicles was attacked by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades while pinned in a canyon more than 200 miles west of Kabul. According to Air Force reports, the use of the 30mm machine gun caused enemy troops to retreat from the fire fight.

Although the A-10 did not fire any weapons during the Wings Over Wayne air show, spectators did get the opportunity to see the aircraft's hairpin turns and quick takeoffs.

With its low-altitude maneuverability and extraordinary firepower, the A-10 is the envy of any airfield. Especially at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"I wish I had one of those," Capt. Tana Stephenson said.