“I knew I had been hit by enemy fire. The A-10 Thunderbolt II (dubbed Warthog by its aircrews) is the first US Air Force (USAF) aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces. It is simple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against light maritime attack aircraft and all ground targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles.
The A-10 offers excellent maneuverability at low airspeeds and altitude while maintaining a highly accurate weapons-delivery platform. The Warthog wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines.
The aircraft can survive direct hits from armor-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Manual systems back up their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems. This permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power is lost.
The incredible photos in this post show then-Capt. Kim Campbell (callsign “Killer Chick” who retired from the USAF as Colonel) surveying the battle damage to her A-10 Thunderbolt II at a base in Southwest Asia. Captain Campbell’s A-10 was hit over Baghdad during a close air support mission.
As told by Capt. Stacie N. Shafran, 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article Operation Iraqi Freedom hero shares her story, while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Captain Campbell and her flight lead were flying over downtown Baghdad during a close air support mission on Apr. 7, 2003.
“We were originally tasked to target some Iraqi tanks and vehicles in the city that were acting as a command post. But, on the way to the target area, we received a call from the ground forward air controller or FAC, saying they were taking fire and needed immediate assistance.” The FAC ultimately turned out to be a member of the captain’s squadron. Once over the target area, they descended below the clouds to positively identify the friendly troops and the enemy’s location.
“We could see the Iraqi troops firing RPGs, or rocket-propelled grenades, into our guys,” she said. “It was definitely a high threat situation, but within minutes my flight lead was employing his 30 mm Gatling gun on the enemy location.” The two-ship formation of A-10s then made several passes over the enemy location, employing 30 mm bullets and high explosive rockets.
“Yes, there was risk involved, but these guys on the ground needed our help,” Campbell said. “It’s what any A-10 attack pilot would do in response to a troops-in-contact situation. That’s our job; to bring fire down on the enemy when our Army and Marine brothers and sisters request our assistance.”
After her last rocket pass, the captain was maneuvering off-target when she felt and heard a large explosion at the back of the aircraft. “There was no question in my mind,” she said. “I knew I had been hit by enemy fire.” The jet rolled violently left and pointed at Baghdad, and it wasn’t responding to the captain’s control inputs. This was when the pilot’s flight training kicked in, and she was able to react quickly.
After realizing both of her hydraulics systems were impaired, Campbell said she had to put the jet into manual reversion, as the back-up system. She said that manual reversion is a system of cranks and cables that allow the pilot to fly the aircraft under mechanical control.
“It was my last chance to try and recover the aircraft, or I would be riding a parachute down into central Baghdad,” she said.
Luckily, the jet responded and started climbing out and away from Baghdad. Not wanting to eject over Baghdad, the two-ship maneuvered south to get out of the city. Anti-aircraft artillery fired at the jets from every direction.
“I couldn’t do much to keep the jet moving, so I was hoping that the theory of ‘big sky, little bullet’ would work in my favor,” she said. “Amazingly, we made it out of Baghdad and above the clouds with no further battle damage.”
Due to the design of the A-10, Campbell said she couldn’t see the damage to her jet, even with the use of her cockpit mirrors. Her flight lead flew closely beside her and performed an initial battle damage check. He told her she had hundreds of small holes in the fuselage and tail section on the right side as well as a football-sized hole on the right horizontal stabilizer. She then ran several emergency checklists and knew she had a decision to make.
“I could stay with the jet and try to land it or get to friendly territory and eject,” she said.
With several positive factors on her side at that moment, such as the jet responding well and an experienced flight lead on her wing providing support. Campbell said she was confident she could get the jet back safely to her deployed home at a base in Southwest Asia, nearly an hour away by flight. As she approached the base, the crash recovery team was waiting for her, along with the rescue helicopters in case she had to eject. Fortunately, she was able to safely land the jet and stop it, using the emergency procedure for alternate braking.
“I was impressed,” said Lt. Col. Mike Millen, chief of the 355th Fighter Wing Commander’s Action Group and an A-10 pilot. “Kim landed that jet with no hydraulics better than I land the A-10 every day with all systems operational.”
During the time of this incident, Colonel Millen was the chief of safety for the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. After she landed, Campbell said her jet became the center of attention, as everyone was eager to see the damage, including her two crew chiefs.
“Both of my crew chiefs did tremendous work on that jet, and it performed better than I ever could have expected,” Campbell said. “We put an incredible amount of trust in these guys, and they do great work.”
“I am incredibly thankful to those who designed and built the A-10 as well as the maintainers who did their part to make sure that jet could fly under any circumstances, even after extensive battle damage,” said Campbell.
She also explained that the next day, she was returned to flying, and in fact, supported a search and rescue mission to help find a downed A-10 pilot near Baghdad. “I never really had time to think about the fact that I was going back to Baghdad, where just the day before, I had escaped a possible shoot down,” she said. “In my mind, the only thing that I could think about was that I had a job to do. I knew that the search and rescue alert crews were there for me the day before, and I was going to do the same for this pilot.”
Campbell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. This medal is awarded in support of operations by “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” A year and a half later, Campbell deployed again in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. She has amassed 375 combat hours during her career.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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