When a "C" is better than an "A"

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Timothy Hogan
  • 81st Fighter Squadron
When is a C better than an A? Never, unless you're an A-10 ATTACK pilot and you're talking about an A-10C versus an A-10A. 

The 81st Fighter Squadron has been transitioning from the A-10A model to the A-10C model during the past year. The transformation has been an enormous multimillion dollar project, involving numerous moving parts, from depot-level aircraft modifications to pilot and maintenance training. It has spanned across three major commands with Headquarters Air Force oversight and funding through two fiscal years. 

The transition has faced many obstacles, such as hangar space, parts supply and pilot training capacity. Training restrictions and aging aircraft wing cracks put our aircraft modifications roughly seven months behind and have been detrimental to meeting our pilot sortie requirement. Currently the 81st has only ten A-10C models out of its fleet for our 36 pilots to train on. This is not ideal and doesn't allow our pilots to maintain the high level of proficiency we typically like to see. 

So what is the C model?
The C model is the nomenclature used to denote a significant A-10 aircraft upgrade or modification. These upgrades increase the lethality of the aircraft's weapons systems, avionics and cockpit design. During the last 30 years, the A-10 has received countless modifications, but this upgrade is revolutionary, allowing the A-10 to employ Global Positioning System guided munitions. With this new capability the A-10 is capable of engaging enemy targets even if the weather doesn't allow the pilot to see the ground. The new cockpit design upgrades focus on better ergonomically designed features and include a new flight control stick and throttle set to aid pilots in employing weapons without removing their hands from the controls. Additionally the new cockpit has two large multi-function color displays that provide a moving map display, digital stores management system and, the Situational Awareness Data Link capability. SADL provides the capability to transfer information electronically between aircraft or to the Joint Terminal Air Controller without using voice communications. 

So what does all this mean?
The A-10 has added another tool to its lethal weapons arsenal and achieved the ability to significantly reduce the time it takes to employ weapons and defend the boots on the ground through digital means, regardless of weather conditions. A significant added gain is our ability to reduce collateral damage and maximize weapons effects through our increased accuracy and precision. 

So how did we transition?
Each pilot was scheduled to attend a three-week conversion training course at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., the A-10 birthing ground. There they received academic instruction, simulator training and four flights. This training was scheduled in concert with a limited training capacity and the entire A-10 fleet competing for slots based on air expeditionary forces rotations. Most of the initial cadre maintainers deployed stateside to receive academic foundations followed by on-the-job training to build the foundation for the maintenance transition. 

So how do we train?
Flying the A-10C model is not any different in terms of rudimentary flying skills, but employing the new systems takes a new mindset and requires proficient muscle memory skills. C-model flying experiences are invaluable and training is enhanced with our simulator or full mission trainer. With the C-model transition, we garnered an additional simulator ahead of schedule which has been a huge synergistic training platform due to our limited sorties and aircraft availability. The simulator gives us an added benefit of using the SADL, which we are currently restricted from using due to frequency management conflicts within Europe. We are working to de-conflict this so SADL training may become possible. 

So what's next?
We will continue to improve and increase our training as the aircraft stream in from the depot. We will use temporary duty trips to locations that allow us to train with SADL and ranges big enough to drop GPS munitions. We will continue to train with our JTACs, providing them the essential close air support training they require before deploying.
Everyone involved in the success of this transition -- from maintainers to pilots to those on the home front -- are to be congratulated for their added sacrifices and extra efforts.
We may be the last of the stick and rudder legacy platforms, but we love the dirty work and have increased our ability to engage the enemy in a knife fight where others are less effective. Attack!