74th Fighter Squadron “World Famous Flying Tigers”
74th Fighter Squadron A-10C Warthogs
“World Famous Flying Tigers”
Moody Air Force Base and Grand Bay Weapons Range, Georgia
18 August 2016
I travelled to Moody AFB on 18 August 2016, for a visit with the 74th Fighter Squadron “Flying Tigers” of the 23rd Wing. Before I describe the incredible day, I need to thank the folks that made it happen.
For their hard work, support, hospitality, enduring the high heat and humidity, and ”rolling out the red carpet” for me, I want to extend my most sincere appreciation and thanks to:
Lieutenant Colonel Bryan ”Gump” France, Commander, 74th Fighter Squadron.
Technical Seargent Zachary Wolf, 23rd Wing Public Affairs.
Dean Fligg, and all the folks at the Grand Bay Weapons Range.
Lieutenant Colonel “Ike” Swengros, 74th FS.
Captain “Hook” Knauss, 74th FS.
Lieutenant “Tonto” Mecadon, 74th FS.
The Warthog maintainers that allowed me to get close to them while working.
All the other folks in the 23rd Wing and 74th FS that helped with security, information, escorting, purchasing squadron memorobilia and just being friendly and socializing.
My wife and son for their continued support, and allowing me to sneak away for one day on our family vacation.
Unit History & the A-10 Warthog
The 74th Fighter Squadron is very rich in history, and have carried the distinctive shark mouth artwork on many of their aircraft.
For a history background, please see this link on the Air Force Historical Research Agency site.
The 74th FS first flew the A-10 Warthog from 1980 – 1992. With a change in base it converted to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but converted back to the A-10 in 2007.
I arrived at Moody AFB late morning on 18 August, and was greeted by my gracious escort, TSgt Wolf from the 23rd Wing Public Affairs office. After a thorough security processing, we proceeded to the 74th FS building. As we waited for the time to go to the ramp, we met and talked with many 74th FS members, and did a quick tour of their bar area.
I also met LTC Bryan “Gump” France, 74th FS Commander, who was scheduled to fly. I cannot emphasize enough the warm welcome and hospitality I was afforded by Gump and everyone else I met. Our plan was to shoot on the ramp for about twenty minutes and then quickly get over to the Grand Bay Weapons Range, which was right next to Moody AFB, to catch some of the A-10s working the range with practice bombs and their GAU-8 Avenger cannons.
It was very hot, and during the briefing to the pilots, it was stressed that the temperature was high and to be cautious. When the time came to go out to the ramp, Gump drove myself, another A-10 pilot “Dirte” and TSgt Wolf to the flightline.
The ramp has sunshades for each parking spot, and can prove to be a challenge when taking photos, with the darker underside and brighter outside. However, seeing it was so hot, I welcomed them! Though, when kneeling down to get some low-angle photos, I literally burned my knee slightly a few times on the hot concrete. A small price to pay, though.
I started taking photos as some of the pilots were doing walkarounds, and others had already climbed into the cockpits. Ground crew scurried around the jets checking them for any issues. We quickly worked our way down the ramp taking photos, and I even took a video of an A-10 pulling out of its parking spot.
Grand Bay Weapons Range
We then had to get over to the range, before it closed to vehicle traffic once the A-10s started working it. The dirt road leading to the range was interesting, to say the least – nestled in the woods with swamps on one side, one has to be careful not to end up in the swamp as it is rumoured that at least one alligator lives there.
Upon arriving at the range, we went inside the small building and met Dean Fligg and some of the other folks that worked there. The air conditioning felt great! We then went back outside and onto the large wooden observation deck, which also had metal bleacher seating. Dean warned us to watch for the hornets or wasps. It was seriously hot, and the sun just beat down on us as there was really no shade.
TSgt Wolf offered me to use his Nikon 500mm f/4 lens, and when I put it on my D7100 camera body, it would not autofocus. I tried my other duplicate body and same thing. He put it on his, and it worked. We never figured it out, and I used my 300mm f/4 and 1.4 teleconverter. Having never shot at this range before, I was unsure about how close the jets would be and if my gear had enough reach. For most shots it worked out well, though just a bit more reach would have been nice.
Dean asked if we wanted the communications broadcasted from the tower – and of course we said yes! This was awesome because we could hear what the pilots were going to do on each run.
The two A-10s proceeded to make six or seven passes – at least one dry run in the beginning, and then a few dropping practice bombs (which were too far away and the photos didn’t come out too well), then a couple gun runs. If you have never heard a GAU-8 Avenger close, it is an amazing sound. When photographing A-10s using their cannon, you see the smoke first, then a second or two later, you hear it. The first time I ever heard it, it made me jump.
I even got some shots of the projectiles leaving the cannon, and was very pleased. On one of Gump’s passes, I chose to do a video of an A-10 firing its GAU-8 Avenger cannon. My camera lost focus on the pass as shooting with e DSLR and the back panel in bright light is a challenge.
We thought the two pilots were done, but then we heard one of them coming again, though couldn’t see it. All of the sudden from atop the trees, Gump came blistering right over us, banking on his side. Luckily, my camera was still on, and I just pulled it up and started shooting over me. Having the prime lens on, I didn’t have to think about zooming and just kept the shutter down. The first shot was miraculously and perfectly framed, and just the front portion of the jet from the rear of the canopy to the nose was in the viewfinder. MSgt Wolf had turned off his camera and was about to put it away, and didn’t get any shots. In retrospect, we think we heard Gump say on the radio he was going to do a “show of force” pass, or something like that. He sure showed us!
A few more A-10s were going to use the range, but with no ammunition and using their laser designators. When doing that, no one can be outside in danger of getting “lased”. We proceeded into the nice air conditioning, and when the A-10s were done, we quickly left during the brief open window of allowed vehicle traffic.
Once back at the 74th FS, we went back out to the ramp, with one of the 74th FS pilots driving us, to get some shots of the maintainers working on an A-10. Seeing it was so hot, they had to alternate with twenty minutes outside with twenty minutes inside. Four maintainers were working on a pylon, and were drilling and hammering away at it. They welcomed me to get closer and underneath the jet, but to just watch my head. Again, I cannot thank them enough for allowing me close to their work. I think it is important to document and capture these folks and the hard work they do in some really challenging conditions.
At this point, the visit was over, having gotten the shots I was looking for, during a visit I will never forget. It was a true honor to see the 74th FS and 23rd Wing up close.