A-10s land on dry lakebed and support USAF Weapons School

  • Published
  • By Maj. Shelley Ecklebe
  • 442d Fighter Wing

The 303rd Fighter Squadron recently returned from a two-week assignment in Las Vegas, supporting the U.S. Air Force’s Weapons School in addition to qualifying pilots in desert landing capabilities. 

Today’s Air Force Weapons School takes some of the best pilots and puts them through the most intense graduate-level training anywhere to teach them how to apply their weapons system in combat and more importantly, teach others to do the same.

“I have been fortunate to fly A-10’s operationally since 2004” said Lt. Col. Rick Mitchell, commander of the 303rd Fighter Squadron. “I’ve been to countless exercises and events and bar none, the US Air Force Weapons School has provided me the best training. While other large force employment exercises and integration events provide stellar opportunities for joint force training, WIC support, from a pilot-in-the-seat-executing perspective, provides the best training for both young and old attack pilots. That’s why when they were looking for CAF units to come help out, I jumped at the opportunity. And I will continue to do so in the future.”

The 303rd Fighter Squadron also took the opportunity to execute desert landings on the Delamar Lakebed in Las Vegas.

Seasoned Instructor Pilot Capt. Nathan Bevis said, “The A-10 has a unique ability to land on austere and unimproved surfaces. Having this ability allows the aircraft to be able to land at forward refueling and rearming locations which in turn allows it to continue to deliver American airpower wherever needed.  Using a dry lakebed is an ideal opportunity to prepare pilots on how to navigate landing on rough surfaces and refueling and rearming the aircraft at unique locations.”

When asked how landing on the lakebed versus a FOD checked runway differed, Bevis said, “It’s truly a joint effort. Combat Controllers perform what is called a California Bearing Ratio, which tests the strength of the landing surface and they also provide communications to aircrew. Physically, landing the jet is pretty similar. It slows down faster and you have to be constantly scanning the terrain for any ruts or divots”. 

The A-10C Thunderbolt II has a wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability which permits ease of operations in and out of locations near the front lines. The highly maneuverable aircraft’s twin-engines are located high on its frame permitting it to land on runways unsuitable for other fighter platforms.

“Ultimately, weapons school support is a win across the spectrum,” said Mitchell. “It provides critical training assets to our aspiring weapons officers enduring a PhD-level tactics and leadership course. It provides a robust and integrated air defense training environment for our fighter squadron pilots. It allows our munitions builders and maintenance team members a chance to build and load live weapons. It allows tactics, techniques, and procedures to be honed and practiced by not only the pilots, but Combat Controllers, JTAC’s, and other entities, and we are proud to participate whenever asked.”