Military Aviation

A-10 pilot who destroyed 23 tanks in one day during Operation Desert Storm reaches a historic 7,000 hours in the Warthog

“I love flying the A-10. Even after 32 years, it hasn’t gotten old,” Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks, A-10 pilot.

US Air Force Reserve pilot Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks assigned to the 442d Fighter Wing made history on Sep. 1, 2021, when he became the only pilot to reach 7,000 hours in the A-10C Warthog; in addition to becoming one of the highest-time fighter pilots in the US Air Force (USAF), Maj. Shelley Ecklebe, 442d Fighter Wing, explains in the article Fighter Pilot Reaches Historic Milestone: 7000-Hours in the A-10C.

Marks’ resume boasts thirteen combat deployments in multiple theaters of operations, and he said that the best part of his job is being able to “mentor and fly with the next generation of fighter pilots.”

Marks’ story spans over three decades, beginning during the Cold War. He is well-known for destroying 23 Iraqi tanks in a trio of missions.

“I love flying the A-10,” said Marks. “Even after 32 years, it hasn’t gotten old. The technology has changed over time and our adversaries’ threats have also changed. You can’t sit still. You have to adapt and improve.”

“Karl achieved 7,000 hours in a single aircraft type – what an incredible feat!” said Brig. Gen. Mike Schultz, 442d Fighter Wing Commander. “He has been leading the Air Force in this platform for a long time. He is an outstanding attack pilot; he loves to fly, and his knowledge is an invaluable resource for the squadron. If you stick around on a Friday afternoon, you may even hear a war story or two.”

Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks taxies in after completing 7,000 hours in the A-10C Thunderbolt II on Sep. 1, 2021 at Whiteman AFB, Mo. Marks is the highest hour A-10C pilot in history. Top image: Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks stands in front of an A-10C Thunderbolt II on Sep. 1, 2021 at Whiteman AFB, Mo.

“7,000 hours. 3,610 sorties. 358 combat sorties in the A-10…just incredible” said Lt. Col. Ryan Hodges, 303rd Fighter Squadron commander, as he presented Marks’ 7000-hour plaque. “No words can describe the caliber of leader and fighter pilot we have in our squadron.”

“Karl has over 1150 combat hours, with so many memorable missions from Desert Storm I, Desert Storm II, and from Afghanistan” said Col. Michael Leonas, 442d Operations Group commander. “Let’s just say I am glad he is on our side.”

What did Marks do to celebrate his 7000th hour? “I wanted to fly with the youngest guy in the squadron, which happened to be Lieutenant Dylan Mackey” said Marks. “Dylan is not only our youngest pilot, but he has a deep legacy within our wing as well. His father, retired Brig. Gen. “Jimmy Mac” Mackey, was an A-10 pilot within our wing whom I’ve flown with many times over the years. It was pretty special to fly my 7,000th hour with his son, Dylan, today. Dylan’s parents were both able to attend today and it was great to see them again.”

The highlight of Marks’ career so far?

“I’ve been luck enough to deploy quite a bit over my career, there’s no way I could pick just one highlight. If I were absolutely forced to pick, I would call it a tie between eliminating 23 Iraqi tanks on February 25th, 1991, during Desert Storm flying with Eric “Fish” Salomonson, and the mission in Afghanistan’s Kunar Valley in 2014 when I was able to use every skill I ever learned as an A-10 pilot to help extract Jaguar 20 from an intense Troops-in-Contact situation when they were nearly surrounded by Taliban.

Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks and 1st Lt. Dylan Mackey, A-10C Thunderbolt II pilots pose in front of an A-10C Thunderbolt II on Sept. 1, 2021 at Whiteman AFB, Mo. Marks, the longest flying A-10 pilot requested to fly with Mackey, the youngest pilot in the 303rd Fighter Squadron.

Other highlights that come to mind are: strafing enemy positions in Afghanistan’s Tagab Valley at dusk with Todd “Riddler” Riddle; eliminating an entire force of Taliban “Red Unit” fighters at night with Brad “Roadie” Jones in 2018; a crazy 8-plus hour night mission in 2003 with Terry “Goof” Gostomski, the details of which I will leave out.

Overall, I just feel humbled and grateful to be celebrating this milestone today. The quality and caliber of fighter pilots in today’s force keeps me young, keeps me humble, and motivates me daily.”

As for what the future holds? Marks says he will fly as long as the Air Force will let him. “I have at least three more years of flying until my current mandatory retirement age. I am hoping to extend that further to age 62 if the Air Force lets me. It’s been a wild ride and I still have some flying yet to do.”

In addition to his flight time in the A-10C, Marks has also accumulated over 700-hours flying the T-38 Talon as an Air Force instructor pilot.

The A-10 was designed specifically for close air support of ground forces. It is named for the famous P-47 Thunderbolt, a fighter often used in a close air support role during World War II.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. A-10A Thunderbolt II 354th TFW, 353rd TFS Black Panthers, MB/78-0660. Myrtle Beach AFB, SC – 1991, Operation Desert Storm

The first production A-10A was delivered to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in October 1975. It was designed specifically for the close air support mission and had the ability to combine large military loads, long loiter and wide combat radius, which proved to be vital assets to the United States and its allies during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Noble Anvil.

In the Gulf War, A-10s had a mission capable rate of 95.7%, flew 8,100 sorties and launched 90% of the AGM-65 Maverick missiles.

Today the Thunderbolt II, in the guise of the updated A-10C, is still the USAF dedicated CAS aircraft. Using night vision goggles, A-10C pilots can conduct their missions during darkness.

The A-10C has Night Vision Imaging Systems (NVIS), goggle compatible single-seat cockpits, Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems, and a large bubble canopy which provides pilots all-around vision.

Avionics equipment includes communications, inertial navigation and GPS, fire control and weapons delivery systems and target penetration aids.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: Maj. Shelley Ecklebe / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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