Picture gallery: A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft seen over Norfolk skies
The sight of an unfamiliar plane in the region’s skies has delighted aircraft enthusiasts over recent weeks, thanks to the arrival of a visiting squadron.
More than 25 American personnel and 10 A-10 Thunderbolt II planes from the 81st Fighter Squadron, usually based at Spangdahlem in Germany, have been temporarily stationed at RAF Lakenheath,
More commonly known by its nickname “warthog”, the A-10 left England in the early 1990s. For the past fortnight, however, the planes have become a regular sight over the region as they took off from RAF Lakenheath, near Brandon, on practice missions, although the squadron is due to leave later this week.
Lt Col John Briner said: “It’s been great for us because the mission is about air support so to be able to show up here and have air space which a lot of us have not seen before is great training.
“When you show up at a new location it’s good for the pilots because it’s a new environment. We’ve been working with Strike Eagles and we’ve been able to brief and debrief face to face, and with the UK and US joint aircraft controllers.
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“To be able to talk to them in person rather than over the phone and for them to find out why we might have done something in a specific way or why we moved in a certain direction, is pretty nice.”
The A-10 is specifically designed for close air support and has the ability to combine large military loads, loiter for long periods of time and has a wide combat radius. These have been seen during a number of military operations including Desert Storm in the Gulf, and Noble Anvil in Yugoslavia.
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Staff sergeant Matthew Speirs said the aircraft had particular benefits and added: “The A-10 gives us more opportunity to be able to look down on a target, whether we’re using the sensors or have binoculars, and the ability to loiter is a lot more efficient.
“They are used for close air support and have been used in Afghanistan and Korea. They can also provide cover and observation for command search and rescue.”
A-10 pilot Brent Fleming said the design of the plane was based around a seven-barrel Gatling gun, a heavy rotary cannon which ran most of the way through the bottom of the plane.
This was able to fire at 66 rounds per second, with 1,150 rounds carried on board. Air-to-ground missiles are also usually carried.
“It’s great working with dudes on the ground and that’s the whole point of our mission – close air support,” he said.
“When you’re flying one of these you really feel like you’re protecting someone every time you go out. Being somewhere unfamiliar is more of a challenge and that’s when your training kicks in. It’s something you have to think about but you learn off other people.”
Fellow A-10 pilot Mike Krestyn added: “It’s wonderful to fly – it’s a lot of fun. The mission is good but the feeling you get is a blast. It’s quite a job to have.”