Aviation News

October 25, 2010

A-10 Warthogs Blow Stuff Up for Fun at Hawg Smoke 2010 Gunnery and Bombing Competition

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By: Josh Rasmussen
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Idaho Air National Guard pilots from the 190th Fighter Squadron placed first and second, leading their four-man team to a repeat victory in the Air Force’s biennial gunnery and bombing competition known as Hawg Smoke. This year’s event was hosted by the 190th in Boise, Idaho, a product of placing in the top spot two years ago in Salina, Kansas.

(Photos by Josh Rasmussen)

“It’s the best of the best who are competing here. It’s a measuring stick on how well your squadron does compared to the rest of the community,” said Lt. Col. Ryan “Oatmeal” Odneal, leader of the 190th team.

Teams competed for a highly-coveted trophy which stands about 3 feet tall and is topped with a polished 30mm round.

“It’s a very well-respected award. It’s the highest award in the A-10 community that you can be awarded,” Odneal said.

The worldwide competition with 18 Air Force and National Guard teams, 40 aircraft and 200 personnel from bases including Osan AFB in the Republic of Korea and Spangdahlem AFB in Germany required pilots to make three bombing passes decreasing in both angle of attack and altitude followed by three heavily-weighted strafing runs. Finally, the pilots had to form up and make a very specific time over a designated point.

Emphasizing the pilots’ ability to will a bomb on target, the competition partially took a retro turn:

“We drop two 30-degree-pass bombs and that’s a manual event going back to the iron sight like it was in WWII, taking the winds into account. As far as the bomb competition that’s where you’re going to make or break your team,” Odneal said.

As for the main event, the strafing, “these guys are experts at gunnery. Out of 100 bullets, they will probably put 98, 99 or 100 bullets through the target,” Col. J.R. Compton, 124 FW commander and Boise native said.

The 1970s design of the A-10 highlights its seven-barrel Gatling gun situated directly beneath the nose of the aircraft.

“The love of flying the airplane is the 30mm GAU-8 gun,” Odneal said. “It’s a phenomenal weapons system. There hasn’t been anything designed over the recent years that can match it. It shoots 60 rounds per second. We can take a shot at 1-2 miles and put the majority of the rounds through a 16-foot target.”

In addition to the realms of competition and camaraderie, Hawg Smoke serves as a viable learning tool and status check.

“This competition is going to define how good we are at what we do,” Compton said. “We revalidate that we’re doing it the right way and we’re all doing it the same. It’s an overall learning experience because we get to see how some other units are applying techniques. We find out where guys have very strong skills or very weak skills.”

The A-10 is a subsonic ground attack aircraft with exceptional low-speed and low-altitude maneuverability. It was, however, credited with two air-to-air kills after shooting down a pair of Iraqi helicopters.

“It’s not glamorous to fly; it’s just lethal and it’s amazing the respect it gets, not just from our allies, but from the enemy. They’re fearful of this aircraft,” Compton, who commanded the 190th FS and led the first wave of A-10s across the border to Kuwait in 2003 during operation Iraqi Freedom said. “The role of the A-10 is specifically for close-air support and that is what it’s doing every day, right now in Afghanistan. Day-time or night-time, our job is to protect our forces on the ground. That’s what the A-10 is built for and it’s very good at doing that.

Hawg Smoke is an A-10 version of an older Air Force-wide gunnery competition called Gunsmoke.

“They don’t do that anymore, but the Hog communities felt that it was important enough to continue a tradition in a competitive realm in which we can compete with other teams. We continued it and changed the name from Gunsmoke to Hawg Smoke,” Odneal said.

Though precision and competition fuel the event, it features more by way of entertainment and remembrance. Prior to the start of the competition, pilots hold a fallen hog ceremony in dedication to fallen warriors, closed with a missing-man fly-by. Additionally, personnel interact through a golf tournament at a local course as well as well-spirited game of crud, an Air Force game loosely base on billiards.

“We are a close-knit community,” Compton said. “It’s truly like a band of brothers.”

By rule, the winning team hosts the following competition but in the event of a repeat winner, as was the case in Boise, the second-place team assumes hosting duties. As runners-up, those responsibilities lay with the 354th FS from Davis-Monthan AFB in Tuscon, Ariz.

Competing teams:
AATC – Davis-Monthan AFB
GF West – Nellis AFB
23rd Operations Support Squadron – Moody AFB
25th Fighter Squadron – Osan AB
45th Fighter Squadron – Davis Monthan AFB
47th Fighter Squadron – Barksdale AFB
66th Fighter Squadron – Nellis AFB
74th Fighter Squadron – Moody AFB
76th Fighter Squadron – Moody AFB
104th Fighter Squadron – Baltimore ANG
107th Fighter Squadron – Selfridge ANG
163rd Fighter Squadron – Fort Wayne ANG
184th Fighter Squadron – Fort Smith ANG
190th Fighter Squadron – Gowen Field ANG
303rd Fighter Squadron – Whiteman AFB
354th Fighter Squadron – Davis-Monthan AFB
357th Fighter Squadron – Davis-Monthan AFB
358th Fighter Squadron – Davis-Monthan AFB