A-10 Pilot Don Ramm recalls the ups and downs of flying the best close support aircraft ever built (we admit we’re biased).
By Don Ramm
Welcome to the flying memories of a peace time pilot. I started pilot training in September of 1973 and dropped my last practice bomb in 1989. The closest I got to anything resembling combat was orders to Korat, Thailand, in 1976. Those were cancelled and I went to England AFB, Louisiana in the A-7.
In 1978 at the ripe old age of 27 with less than 1000 hours under my belt I was offered the opportunity to fly the A-10. The truth is, I wanted to fly F-16s but didn’t want to endure a tour as an ALO (Air Liaison Officer), a standard “follow on” assignment for many first-assignment attack pilots. I called MPC (Military Personnel Command), asked the fighter assignments guys what my options were, and was offered an A-10 IP (instructor pilot) job at Davis Monthan AFB near Tucson AZ. I spent 1975 – 76 at DM checking out in the A-7 and flying with an operational squadron and liked the area. I was glad to go back. By June 1981 when I left active duty I had logged just over 1000 hours in the Hog.
1.) Conversion Course and IP School
After a transition course to learn how to fly the “Hog” and drop bombs and shoot bullets from its well known GAU-8 30 mm cannon, I attended the IP course to learn how to instruct. The A-7 was the finest bomb and bullet delivery platform during its heyday in the 70s. Its computed weapons delivery system was a technological miracle that, when employed by a pilot who knew how to make it work, was capable of unparalleled accuracy. The USAF-wide bombing competitions of the 70s and early 80s were dominated by the A-7.
Moving from that to the A-10 which had no computer (at that time; it does now) took some getting use to. Flying slower and with a nice “hard sight” HUD (heads up display), I was able drop some pretty good bombs in the “low angle” events, but a 45 degree dive delivery (release at 3 or 4 thousand feet as I recall = slant range of more than a mile) was a challenge. The gun, on the other hand, was point and shoot. Yes, some Kentucky windage was required on a long distance shot but in close it was hard to miss. And, oh, the sound of that gun! Not so much from in the cockpit, but from the ground it was a thrill to hear and watch it work.
One of the nice things about the A-10 which is true to this day: There are no two-seaters. How does one instruct without a two-seater? Of course, all of the trainees were already pilots who had flown at least one airplane that is harder to fly than the A-10 – that is, the T-38. So, we as instructors did not teach our charges how to fly as much as we were in their subconscious (via FM radio which was used for airplane to airplane communications) as we coaxed them through maneuvers. In the early flights where they just got the feel of the A-10 and in the early air-to-ground rides we would fly a close “fighting wing” position so we could tell what their airplane was doing. In later flights, the student would fly wing and be pretty much on their own; we would lead the flight and drop our own bombs and shoot our own gun. So I had 600 or 700 hours as an IP and never once had to share the stick with the student.
2.) Two-Seat A-10
Actually, there was one two-seat A-10. It was built by Fairchild and pitched by them as a close support platform that could operate in marginal weather and at night. The Air Force evaluated it in the early 80s but didn’t buy it. I ran across this lone two-seater in 1997 when Tracy (my wife and pilot) and I flew into Edwards AFB. After doing a touch and go on their 5 mile long runway in our rented T-41, we landed near the Edwards Aero Club in a quiet corner of the base. On the ramp next to the club was one of just about every late model USAF airplane including an F-16, F-4, A-7, even an SR-71, and the only two-seat A-10 ever built. Not only did we walk among the museum pieces, we climbed on them and no one seemed to mind which is where this picture of Tracy came from.
3.) Bicycle Lake
One of the more enjoyable TDYs (temporary duty) we had was a three-week “Red Flag” at Fort Irwin in California. Ft Irwin is about 50 miles northeast of Barstow CA which if you are familiar with that neck of the woods is pretty much in the middle of no where. As an Army fort it had seen better days. There must have been a hundred houses on base – all were empty. We stayed in the “Q” (Visiting Officer Quarters) – as opposed to the Army troops who were participating in the same exercise; they left on Monday morning and spent the week living in pup-tents “in the field”.
The nice thing about the exercise, of course, was the flying. We flew off of Bicycle Lake next to Ft Irwin. It wasn’t like the WWII days when the Spitfires and Hurricanes took off any direction they pleased. There was a runway plowed out of the dry lake bed. We always took off single ship. Lead would start a turn right after take off and do a wide 360 over the lake at about 500 feet while his wingman took the runway. It was easy for lead to time his turn so that he rolled out about a mile wide in line abreast from the wingman so the flight was in “tactical formation” immediately after takeoff. We would routinely fly the entire mission at under 500 feet. (This was in the days when low altitude was thought to be the best way to fly the A-10 – under the radar.)
4.) Nose Low
One day, the squadron ops office was leading a two ship on a typical mission. His aircraft had just been worked on by the maintenance folks – something which involved putting the gear handle in the up position while on the ground. They did put it back down (it was down when he did his before start checks said the pilot) but apparently not down far enough and for some reason the nose gear was not pinned per standard procedures. As he fired up the #1 engine, as soon as there was enough hydraulic pressure, the nose gear obeyed what it was commanded to do and folded up. For some reason the mains didn’t retract (perhaps they were pinned) so the A-10 nose hit the hard dirt ramp area driving the gun into the ground. Somehow they picked the nose up, dropped the gear and pinned it. Except for the dirt in some of the seven barrels of the GAU-8, it looked like all of the other A-10s. The exercise ended a few days later and we flew it home with the landing gear down. (I flew on the crippled Hog’s wing on the way home. I anticipated having lots of fun making “high speed” passes on the stiff-legged A-10, but it wasn’t mean to be. The ground crew, instructed to leave the gear pinned on the injured A-10, did the same to mine. When I raised the gear handle nothing happened, and I flew home with gear extended as well.)
5.) Shooting Cadillac’s
Somehow I was selected to fire a Maverick missile during a live fire demonstration. It was staged for success. Thanks to 50 mile visibility and the dark tank on the sandy desert I could pick up the target from miles away. I flew directly at the target at low altitude. At about 4 miles out, I pulled up and then bunted over to point my nose at the target area. All I had to do at that point was put the HUD pipper near the target, look in the TV display in the cockpit which displayed what the Maverick’s camera was seeing, lock on to the tank, and fire. Well, though the viz was 50 miles, there was a pesky rain shower along the path I had chosen to approach the target. The front windscreen on the A-10 is flat. The rain piled up on the windscreen making it impossible for me to make anything out through the HUD. I droned on for what seemed like 10 seconds but was probably on 3 until I left the rainy area. The windscreen cleared in a few more moments, I picked up the tank, pointed at it, found it in the soda-straw view of the Maverick’s camera, locked on, and pressed the “pickle” button. More long moments passed and finally the Maverick whooshed off of the rail on my right wing. I turned left and dove for the ground and didn’t see what happened. They tell me the Maverick, which at that time cost about $10,000 – the price of a new Cadillac, nailed the target.
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