The Premier Bombing and Gunnery Competition Exclusive To The A-10 Warthog
Report and photos by Scot Meek
November 5, 2018
The Hawgsmoke Precision Bombing and Gunnery competition for 2018 took place from 17 October to 20 October, at Whiteman AFB, located near Knob Noster, Missouri, and hosted by the 442nd Fighter Wing.
Five years after the Gunsmoke Worldwide Bombing And Gunnery Meet ceased to continue after 1995, the Hawgsmoke event was conceived and initiated by Col. Cliff Latta, (then) 172nd Fighter Squadron Commander. Hosting the event that year was the 172nd Fighter Squadron, Michigan Air National Guard and it took place at the Alpena Combat Readiness Center in Michigan. A Bi-Annual event, Hawgsmoke is a friendly competition between USAF, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard A-10 units. The purpose is to foster Esprit De Corps, fellowship and camaraderie within the close-knit A-10 community, and to challenge one another in the skill of accurate air-to-ground weapons delivery and gunnery. The competition is usually hosted by the winning team of the previous Hawgsmoke event.
The A-10 units attending the competition this year were (in no particular order) :
303rdFS ‘KC Hawgs’ AFRC Whiteman AFB
358thFS ‘Lobos’ USAF Whiteman AFB
190thFS ‘Skullbangers’ Idaho ANG Gowen Field ANG Base
104thFS ‘Ravens’ Maryland ANG Warfield ANG Base
47thFS ‘Termites’ (Dogpatchers) AFRC Davis-Monthan AFB
# 74thFS ‘Flying Tigers’ USAF Moody AFB
75thFS ‘Tiger Sharks’ USAF Moody AFB
* 76thFS ‘Vanguard’ USAF Moody AFB
107thFS ‘Red Devils’ Michigan ANG Selfridge ANG Base
163rdFS ‘Blacksnakes’ Indiana ANG Ft.Wayne, IAP
354thFS ‘Bulldogs’ USAF Davis-Monthan AFB
+ 357thFS ‘Dragons’ USAF Davis-Monthan AFB
# 74thFS operated 75thFS aircraft
* 76thFS operated 303rdFS aircraft
+ 357thFS operated 354thFS aircraft
For the 2018 Hawgsmoke event, crews received the three bombing and strafing profiles that they would be expected to execute, on the day they arrived for the event. The attending squadrons are also provided a list of arrival times at the hosting location to choose from, in order to deconflict the airspace for the mass arrival of 40 plus A-10’s….and in the case of Whiteman AFB, the need to deconflict for B-2 and T-38 traffic as well.
Every Hawgsmoke competition focuses on the skills needed to deploy and deliver air-to-ground ordnance and fire the 30mm cannon as accurately as possible. But not all the points awarded are based on bombs and bullets. For the inbound A-10 teams, scoring points begins before they even arrive at the competition site. As the team of (typically) four aircraft approach their destination, upon entering the base airspace, (approximately 20 miles out) the flight lead provides Base Operations with a pinpointed arrival time of his team, initiating the start of a countdown timer. For every ½ second of tardiness of their pinpointed arrival time, points are deducted from their final score. Two teams tied this year, arriving to the overhead at Whiteman AFB, a mere ½ second late. The longest delay of the arriving teams was a very respectable 5 seconds. No small feat considering the task of getting four aircraft at a single point within six seconds of the pinpointed estimated time. All pilot skill. No state-of-the-art autopilot. As the arriving teams execute their overhead break at 300 knots, they are also scored on their airmanship, professionalism over the radio, and sharpness while taxiing to the chocks.
The official kickoff of Hawgsmoke 2018 began in the early evening of 17 October, with a fantastic aerial demonstration by the USAF A-10 Demo Team from Davis-Monthan AFB. Even though the 2018 airshow season is winding down, Capt. Cody ‘ShIV’ Wilton and the Warthog Demo Team most certainly didn’t hold anything back, wielding his aircraft in a magnificent display of how truly maneuverable the A-10 can be when in capable hands. At the conclusion of the sunset A-10 Demo, the National Anthem was sung by an honored guest, with the invocation by the 303rd Fighter Squadron chaplain following shortly after. The speaker for the event, LtCol. ‘Sausage’ Saugstad, took to the podium and spoke of the history, and value, of the Hawgsmoke competition to the A-10 community.
At every Hawgsmoke event, the time is taken to honor and remember the close friends, the colleagues, and the mentors, that flew the A-10 Warthog, who have passed away, and are no longer with us.
A deeply rooted event in the tight-knit A-10 community, the ‘Fallen Hawgs’ tribute ceremony began with a ‘Missing Man’ A-10 fly-over. Simultaneously, a very somber rendition of ‘Taps’ was being trumpeted in the background.
LtCol. Saugstad and LtCol. Mitchell then stepped to the podium, and with great care, respectfully read aloud each individual’s name that had passed.
Afterward, each pilot stood and quietly formed into a single file line. One by one..as each pilot made their way to the end of the line, they drank a shot of whiskey..paid their respects to those they remember…and as if throwing a fastball, they pitched their shot glasses into a ceremonial fire pit. During this moment of remembrance, the only audible sounds that could be heard were the crackling of the fire, and the shot glasses shattering every other second.
‘A-10’S KICK ASS!’
Day two of the competition is range day for everyone. After stepping to their aircraft and spooling up to meet their designated range time, the teams taxi to the aircraft arming area prior to departure and there, they receive previously unreleased coordinates to a target en route to the range. In this instance, they have to locate an ‘enemy’ convoy of trucks that are located in the designated area. The trucks were parked in a rural area with their engines running, providing a heat signature for target acquisition purposes. This particular location was selected due to several factors, one being the landowners enthusiasm specifically for the A-10 Warthog. Somewhere in southern Missouri there is a barn with the slogan “A-10’s kick ass” facing skyward on the barn roof and plainly visible from the road adjacent to the property!
Upon arriving to the location vicinity, the team has to first locate and verify their target. When the flight lead has confirmed that they have, in fact, found their target, they must then make a coordinated attack on the position. The training weapons used for this scenario, are the AN/AAQ-28 LITENING targeting pod located on weapon station 10, one inert Imaging Infrared CATM-65D Maverick on station 9, and one Electro-Optical CATM-65B on station 3. CATM is the acronym for ‘Captive Air Training Missile’. Both missiles were equipped with active target seekers for realistic targeting purposes. Scores are tallied by looking at the target ‘screenshots’ from the missiles imagery at the moment of the simulated missile launches, and the elapsed time from departing Whiteman AFB. The team that ‘destroys’ the simulated enemy truck convoy in the shortest amount of time, wins the event.
After completing this task, the teams proceed toward the range airspace. The bomb and gunnery range for this year’s Hawgsmoke, is located at Cannon Range near Laquey, Missouri. The range itself is adjacent to the Ft. Leonard Wood U.S. Army Post. Upon arriving and getting clearance from the Range Safety Officer for the team to begin, the next task is to bomb a single ‘enemy’ truck. The target for this task is a derelict ex-U.S. Army 2.5 ton truck, painted blue for identification purposes. Once the team is “cleared hot” by Range Safety Officials, they are allowed to ingress the target area from any direction they wish, but each aircraft must execute the three specified bomb delivery profiles, executing two bomb delivery passes for each profile, and in a specified order. The weapons used during this challenge are six BDU-33 25 lb. practice bombs, utilizing two Triple Ejector Racks on aircraft weapons stations 4 and 8.
The first bomb delivery profile to be executed, is the 30-degree high altitude dive, with bomb release no lower than 4500 feet above the surface.
The second profile is the 20-degree low angle/ low drag profile, with bomb release no lower than 1000 feet, and the last delivery profile is the 15-degree pop-up/ low angle / high drag profile, with bomb release no lower than 75 feet.
Scoring for each pass is determined by bomb impact in relation to the target using the clock position, (front of the truck is the 12 o’clock) and impact distance from the target. In this case:
Direct Hit on the target = 0 Points
Impact 10 Meters from target = 10 points
Impact 20 Meters from target = 20 points and so on…
The team that obtains the lowest score in this event is declared the winner…
The final challenge for the Hawgsmoke competition and the most unique to the A-10 Warthog is the Gunnery competition utilizing the GAU-8A Avenger 30mm cannon, the weapon that makes the A-10 so popular with fans and often a favorite with aircrews. For safety purposes, aircraft must ingress the target area from the north, and are limited to a 20-degree arc spanning to the North and Northwest from the target.
The target for this series of strafing passes is a hapless ex-U.S. Army Armoured Personnel Carrier. To ensure accurate scoring, microphones and sensors surround the APC and are able to count each round that impacts near the target. Even though the A-10 can carry 1167 rounds of ammunition, each competing aircraft is allotted to shoot just 100 rounds, via a limiter switch located in the cannon bay and set by the aircraft’s crew chief. For this event, once 100 rounds have been expelled, the switch effectively cuts the power off to the cannon. Each aircraft must achieve a minimum of ten rounds on the target from a distance, no less than 2000 horizontal feet on the first attempt. Once the qualification is met, this allows the team member to make second and third passes to put as many rounds on the target as possible. Scoring is determined by tallying the total amount of rounds impacting the target and the surrounding area. The team that scores the most total direct hits on the target, wins the event.
Score tallying began once the last team of competitors returned to Whiteman AFB Thursday afternoon. Once arriving back to Whiteman, all pilots promptly hand over their cockpit video and data tapes containing all weapon and HUD camera video. From there, a team of A-10 Weapons Instructor Course graduates then spent the next 12 hours on Thursday and most of the day Friday critiquing each and every competitor’s footage and correlate those with information obtained from the target area’s sensors and microphones. Final scores and winners of the 2018 Hawgsmoke were delivered the evening of Friday the 19th of October.
The overall winners for the Hawgsmoke competition for 2018 were the team of pilots (names withheld for security purposes) known by their call-signs as: ‘Pinch’, ‘Otter’, ‘2Sock’ and ‘Hack’, from the ‘Flying Tigers’ of 74th Fighter Squadron, based at Moody AFB, Georgia. Much to their credit, the team had just recently returned home from a three week Red Flag Alaska Exercise and had very little to no time to prepare for the Hawgsmoke competition. Garnering the Hawgsmoke trophy speaks to the team’s talent, professionalism and drive as A-10 pilots.
When Aviation Photography Digest had a chance to sit down and chat with the team, we was asked them what the most difficult part of the competition was.. “The 15 Low Angle delivery..because we never do ‘em.” ‘2Sock’ said with a light chuckle. “Pinch asked us to raise our hand if we’ve done the 15 Low Angle…and none of us did.”
The 15-degree profile requires the pilot to ingress to the target area at low-level, and execute a ‘pop up’ maneuver. Once arriving at the target location, the pilot initiates a 35-degree climb, rolls inverted to visually acquire his target, and once located, rolls the aircraft upright and transitions to a 15-degree dive. This profile is most often used when utilizing high drag munitions, such as the Mk82 AIR (Air Inflatable Retard) bomb that, once released from the aircraft, deploys a small parachute out of the tailkit of the bomb. This allows the aircraft to escape the bomb impact area without risk of damage.
With the growing use of GPS and Laser guided weapons, the use of unguided ‘dumb’ bombs has largely fallen out of practice.
Regarding the 30 millimeter cannon, one of the questions presented to the team was ‘how do A-10 pilots prevent themselves from ‘drifting’ off of the target once the cannon begins firing and the windscreen fills with cannon smoke?’ “The aircraft has a system that locks up the flight controls” ‘2Sock’ stated.. “It’s a two detent trigger. So we can make larger control inputs on the stick, and then finer inputs, and then when we go to Pac-2, the jet essentially locks up, so that what we’re shooting stays in our sight picture. Our first shots were with Pac-1”. When making their first gun passes, the team opted to conduct a ‘sighter burst’ pass. A ‘sighter burst’ is a short burst of rounds fired on the first pass to make note of the windage, round tracking and other variables. This option not only put more rounds on the target to ensure they qualify with the 10 rounds, but also enough to make adjustments as necessary for their second pass, and empty the rest of the rounds on the target to get the maximum amount of hits possible.
‘How does one get selected to go forth and represent at Hawgsmoke?’
‘Pinch’ said…“I was the flight lead and so I was in charge for picking the team. And so the first one we picked here is ‘Hack’. ‘Hack’ is the youngest dude in our squadron, and is the only Lieutenant currently flying, and we thought it would be great for him to come out and to fly a jet here at Hawgsmoke as a Lieutenant and see how it was”.
The other two [‘Otter’ and ‘2Sock’] are our high time pilots with the most experience.”
Complete list of Winners:
30 High Angle Dive Bomb – Maj “Boomhaur” Bohn 76th FS
20 Low Angle Low Drag – Maj “Slinga” Yuengling 104th FS
15 Low Angle High Drag Pop – LtCol. “Shrek” Ward 107th FS
Strafe- LtCol.”Comet” Lesh 354th FS (Demo Team)
Overall Pilot – LtCol. “Shrek” Ward
Overall 3rd Place Team – 358th FS “Lobos”
Overall 2nd Place Team – 54th FS “Bulldogs”
Top Tactical Team – 74th FS “Flying Tigers”
Top Bombing Team – 74th FS “Flying Tigers”
Overall 1st Place Team – 74th FS “Flying Tigers”
Aviation Photography Digest would like to extend a very sincere ‘Congratulations!!’ to the winning pilots: Capt. ‘Pinch’ Vincent, Capt. ‘Otter’ Ott, Capt. ‘2Sock’ Razack and Lt. ‘Hack’ Goodman, and also to extend our deepest appreciation for their time answering questions for us.
We at Aviation Photography Digest would also like to extend our deepest gratitude to LtCol. Walter, Maj. ‘Fodog’ Glen, TSgt. Jennings, and SrA. Kleyh and the rest of the 442ndFW Public Affairs team, for their absolutely gracious hospitality, continually going above and beyond every single day, allowing us to cover Hawgsmoke 2018 as thoroughly as possible.
“IF YOU’RE NOT FIRST,
YOU’RE LAST!”- ‘Fodog’
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